Turns out, Donald Trump’s federal judge nominees are a lot like him: online wingnuts without impulse control.
John Bush, now a lifetime-appointee appellate judge, blogged for years under the pseudonym “G. Morris.” Under that name, he spread Birtherism and reposted threats to shoot Obama supporters. Then he lied about doing so to the Senate. Then the Senate confirmed him anyway, on a party-line vote, with not a single Republican breaking ranks. He’ll likely still be on the bench in 2050.
The Senate is also poised to confirm Damien Schiff, another right-wing blogger who has opined on his blog that the entire New Deal and Great Society programs (including Social Security and Medicare) are unconstitutional, has called Justice Anthony Kennedy a “judicial prostitute,” and said that environmentalists “push an agenda that has more to do with stifling productive human activity than fostering ecological balance.”
And now there’s Brett Talley, who surely takes the cake.
Talley is only the second judicial nominee since 1989 to be unanimously rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. He has made most of his living as a political hack, including as an attack dog for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. As first reported by the Daily Beast, Talley is a former ghostbuster (sorry, “paranormal investigator”) who writes horror novels in his spare time. In fact, in the “honors and awards” section of his Senate questionnaire, Talley listed three awards for his horror fiction, none for his lawyering.
Talley also failed to disclose, on his conflict of interest filings, that his own wife works for the guy in charge of picking judges for Trump, and that she is now a key witness in Robert Mueller’s investigation of the president. Because, you know, no conflict of interest there.
And then there are the blog posts.
In January 2013, shortly after the Newtown massacre, Talley urged his readers to “Join the NRA. They stand for all of us now.” A month later, he reposted a statement that “We will have to resort to arms when our other rights — of speech, press, assembly, representative government — fail to yield the desired results” and said “I agree with this completely.”
As the 2016 campaign shifted into high gear, so did Talley.
“Hillary Clinton has committed acts that would have resulted in the prosecution of ordinary citizens,” he wrote on CNN.com. “During the Obama administration, the EPA became a lawless organ of federal power,” he has said. And his tweets, not disclosed in his Senate confirmation process, are an endless parade of Trump-esque Hillary-bashing: lock her up, “Hillary Rotten Clinton,” and so on.
These views aren’t exceptional for angry white men sitting around in their underwear. They aren’t even out of line for a strictly political nominee (Talley has been working at the Sessions Justice Department since January). But they are extremely exceptional for someone nominated to be an impartial, independent judge with life tenure and authority over all kinds of contentious and politically relevant cases.
Like most of Trump’s judicial picks, Talley, Bush, and Schiff have come up through the Leonard Leo-Federalist Society-Donald McGahn pipeline. They resemble President Comment Section, but unlike Trump, these men will still be in office decades from now.
Incidentally, Bush’s blog posts now contain disclaimers that “The postings of ‘G. Morris’, written by John K. Bush and which end in 2016, stated his views as of the dates of posting and should not be understood as current assertions of his views. The postings, which have not been altered since they came to an end, remain on this blog to preserve the historical record. In 2017, Mr. Bush took a position that precludes further public political comments or endorsements. He will no longer be contributing to this blog.”
The tide is just beginning. With the Senate having taken no action on 59 Obama-era nominees, there are record numbers of federal vacancies. To fill these spots, the Federalist-Trump pipeline has put forward Thomas Farr, the architect of North Carolina’s illegal voter suppression campaign who once ran a race-based campaign for Jesse Helms; Jeff Mateer, a man who has described transgender children as “Satan’s plan;” Amy Barrett, a former law professor who said that the point of a legal career is to “build the kingdom of God;” and many others of their ilk. The list goes on and on and on.
There are some signs that Talley may be a breaking point. The blog posts, the undisclosed conflict of interest, his wife’s importance in the Russia investigation – already, Talley’s nomination has attracted more media attention than, say, John Bush’s. It wouldn’t take much: just a handful of Republican Senators willing to buck their party’s leadership. Could it happen?
That will depend on the public’s ability to retain focus on a single issue while the Trump administration, true to the strategy of Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn, bamboozles us with new outrages for each hourly news cycle. Consider a longer view: these wingnuts will be deciding cases thirty years from now. That’s a lot of blog posts.
UPDATE: After this piece was published, it was revealed that Brett Talley appears to have posted, under a pseudonym, a defense of a KKK leader from the 1860s, stating that "the first KKK, which was entirely different than the KKK of the early 19th [sic] Century." In fact, historians state that the KKK in the 1860s was a quasi-terrorist organization dedicated to white supremacy, intimidating African Americans with "night rides" and administering beatings and lynchings of both African Americans and suspected Northern sympathizers. Talley has not commented on these posts.