Conservatives rarely oppose the judicial nominations of brilliant conservative lawyers, but Alabama’s Brett Talley, under renewed assault from the usual liberals, may indeed deserve to be blocked by Republicans as well.
Talley already has been under attack because he has never actually tried a case in federal court, but his record is otherwise so impressive that it makes that argument rather irrelevant – especially considering that current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan was a court-trial novice as well.
The other concerns about Talley, however, appear more valid – most especially one relating to, yes, the Ku Klux Klan.
Talley, who has served as deputy solicitor general for the state of Alabama, and before that as a clerk for a federal district judge, is President Trump’s nominee for a seat on the federal court of the Middle District of Alabama. The liberal hatchet men of the American Bar Association rated him “not qualified” because he hasn’t directly handled a trial, but of course his other experience is exemplary.
The real problem isn’t with that experience. It’s with the evidence – so far not formally confirmed in any source I can find, but apparently accepted as real – not just that Talley failed to disclose some 16,000 pseudonymous online posts to a University of Alabama message board, but that some of them seem nearly toxic.
The worst of those posts was one in which, quite bizarrely and with horrendous historical ignorance, the person-assumed-to-be-Talley asserted that “the first KKK… was entirely different” than the later one, and that former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a leader of the early Klan and a pre-war slave trader, somehow was not a horrible advocate of blatant racism and post-war violence.
(Talley also is known for having served as, literally, a professional ghost-hunter, which is rather weird but not necessarily disqualifying, considering that he wrote well-received horror fiction and may have been using his ghost-hunting for source material.)
Except for at some abstruse academic conference, it is more than disturbing that anybody serious would take time to defend the Klan at any point in its existence. This isn’t even somewhat reasonable historical argumentation, like asserting that not all Confederates were fighting consciously for slavery – which is indisputably true, even if the effect of their fight was to support that evil practice. This was a post involving an apparently outraged, and certainly huffy, defense of the Klan.
These posts weren’t written by somebody in high school. They were written when Talley already was serving as a clerk for a federal judge.
Who knows exactly what was going through Talley’s head when he wrote that post (assuming he did)? But it, combined with a lot of otherwise smallish concerns about his record, casts real doubt on his current fitness for a federal judgeship. It is more than legitimate to question whether Talley possesses the requisite good judgment to sit on a federal bench.
In and of itself, one truly stupid post shouldn’t ruin a man’s career. But at age 36, Talley has plenty of time to continue to build his resume, put youthful folly behind him – and reassure people that his emotions involving racial issues aren’t indicative of bias or bigotry.
The withdrawal of Talley’s nomination would not say that he is a bad lawyer or bad man. It would, however, say that surely other Alabama lawyers are, at this stage, more suited for a federal judgeship. Talley would gain grace points if he himself withdraws, with a classy and thoughtful statement, rather than waiting for someone else to push him aside.
Yellowhammer Contributing Editor Quin Hillyer, of Mobile, also is a Contributing Editor for National Review Online, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.