Two politicians named Kennedy, were born a generation apart (34 years), both whip smart, both elected to office with majorities several times, both elected as U.S. Senators, one a President, both first elected as Democrats.
One personal difference is found in their given middle initials, N for Neely and F for Fitzgerald.
One is a martyred President and war hero. The second is making a splash by doing his job as a sitting U.S. Senator from the Great State of Louisiana.
There is no familial connection between the families. Yet the two men share an eerie personal association. JFK, our 35th President was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963. JNK was born in Centreville, Mississippi on November 21, 1951, one day and twelve years apart. On the day JFK was murdered in office, Neely Kennedy would have just turned 12 years old.
For any American child at that time, President Kennedy’s assassination and its aftermath was a shock and psychological body blow of the first order. I am just two years older than Kennedy, and 54 years after the horror in Dallas, I can recall vividly, without the least conscious effort, exactly where I was at 1 PM on that Friday afternoon. Imagine the impact on a young man who literally had just celebrated his 12th birthday the day before.
I sat in Geometry class in high school in New York City when the principal came to our class to announce the news from 1,562 miles away (we were way north and east). All conversation ceased, and there was a stunned dead silence for a few moments, until classmates began to sob and cry. The only other sound that remains etched on my brain was an unnaturally loud mechanical ticking from the wall clock over the classroom door that never stopped.
Tin 1983 we had no cell phones, no 24-hour cable TV stations, no scrolling chyrons, no Internet, no Twitter or Facebook to spread the awful news. We had the radio and Walter Cronkite (CBS) on the evening news to inform the nation and show us the horror. Thank God we didn’t have to listen to Fox & Friends mindless chatter and political gamesmanship. America’s News Anchor Uncle Walter was plenty good enough for our first immersion.
The only comparable life event we shared with our parents was their reaction to the death of Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, the man many of them knew as U.S. President during their whole adult lives (1932-1945). Over and over again, adults told us they could remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on April 12, 1945, less than one month before the U.S. and its Allies gained victory in Europe following Germany’s unconditional surrender. This sharing was their earnest attempt to comfort us.
Louisiana John Kennedy was just 430 miles away (east and a little south) when he absorbed the news of JFK’s Assassination. DJT was 52 miles further up the Hudson River from my high school (at Cornwall NY) as a senior student, when he heard about the 35th President’s death that Friday. Louisiana John Kennedy largely eschews the spotlight, and I haven’t found anything readily to hand where he has described his own personal reaction. Trump.45, Blowhard of the North and author of many fine books, has not publicly proffered his reaction at the time, so far as I can find.* how drearily typical was that only 2 months ago,
Young Neely Kennedy was raised here in Louisiana in Zachary, a stone’s throw from Baton Rouge. He left the state temporarily to pursue an excellent liberal arts and professional education out of our state.
He graduated in 1969 from Zachary High School. He finished magna cum laude in 1973 from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, with a degree in Political Science, Philosophy, and Economics.
At Vanderbilt, he was elected president of his senior class and named to Phi Beta Kappa. After Vanderbilt, Kennedy received a J.D. degree in 1977 from the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville, Virginia. At the University of Virginia School of Law, he was an executive editor of the Virginia Law Review and was elected to the Order of the Coif.
In 1979, he earned a Bachelor of Civil Law degree with first class honours from Magdalen College, Oxford in England.
In other words, he is a legitimate brainiac, with polish and verbal fluency. Agree with his political philosophy or not, Facts is Facts. Just watch him on YouTube, canned or impromptu.
Anyone who makes the resolutely stupid mistake of assuming John Neely Kennedy is some sort of southern rube is in for a very rude shock.
Kennedy has a long record (25 years) as a state civil servant, and elected official (4-term State Treasurer). He has honed political instincts in our purple, not mostly reddish state. Kennedy was a Democrat in and out of office until 2007, when he switched parties, and kept getting elected, as Louisiana generally washed the blue out of statewide and Federal Politics here. He has come onto the national political scene only in 2017 as a first term Republican junior Senator from our state.
Kennedy is a Trump supporter, and mostly votes for his policies. In fact, Trump.45 took the time and trouble to personally visit Louisiana for an election rally in December, 2016 to pump up Kennedy’s U.S. Senate General Election Runoff prospects, besides offering the usual pedestrian Twit support.
On the other hand, Kennedy is no fawning courtier, and does not suffer fools gladly.
Like many southern politicians, Kennedy can don the folksy mantle (for real, except in the matter of his educational achievements), but there is a residual bite in his folksiness that can be lethal to coasters, who just phone it in for heavy events, and merely show up for the coronation.
Kennedy actually takes the administration of justice seriously; party affiliation is not the paramount Gold Standard.
As Trump.45’s minions have found out not once, but three times, in the last month. Three lifetime appointment Federal judicial nominations were left mowed flat by opposition from Kennedy despite grudging acquiescence by the bulk of his Republican colleagues. One in particular (Matthew Peterson) was shot down in full HD flames by a withering, off the cuff examination at his Senate confirmation hearing by John Neely Kennedy. Just like a good trial lawyer, who cares about the law and his profession.
The discarded nominees are Jeff Mateer, Brett Talley, and Matthew Peterson, Gregory Katsas survived Kennedy’s opposition and confirmed as a Federal Judge on a strict party line vote of 50-48, all Republicans present save for Kennedy.
Kennedy spent Tuesday and Wednesday establishing his discontent with several aspiring judges whom Trump has sent to the Senate for approval. First, on Tuesday, he voted against Gregory Katsas’ confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Remarkably, that made Kennedy the first Republican Senator to vote against one of Trump’s judicial nominees.
Kennedy, who is a lawyer, explained that he opposed Katsas due to a “conflict of interest” that “a first-year law student would see”: In his current role as deputy White House counsel, Katsas worked on contentious executive orders, and helped to craft the president’s response to special counsel Robert Mueller.
“He is counsel to the president to the United States,” Kennedy said. “He’s going to walk across the street and sit on the court that is going to hear cases involving the president and we’re all as Americans supposed to believe that he alone will judge when he has a conflict or not.”
The senator then declared that he would vote against Brett Talley, whom Trump has nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Kennedy noted that Talley is married to the White House counsel’s chief of staff, a fact he failed to disclose to the Senate. He also pointed out that the 36-year-old Talley has little legal experience.
The White House is giving up on two of President Donald Trump’s nominees for the federal bench.
The president will not pursue the nominations of Brett Talley to a district court slot in Alabama and Jeff Mateer to a district court post in Texas, a White House official confirmed to POLITICO Wednesday.
Talley indicated he was prepared to withdraw from consideration after coming under criticism for a lack of experience and for failing to disclose that his wife works in the White House counsel’s office.
“He has offered to withdraw his nomination thus it will not be moving forward,” said a White House official who asked not to be named.
The official added that the nomination of Mateer, who ran into trouble over extreme statements about transgender children, “will not be moving forward.”
Talley’s nomination was endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote last month, while Mateer had yet to be scheduled for a hearing.
“I think the quality of judicial appointments is important,” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday. “I think experience is important. I think having tried a case is important. I think being able to separate yourself from your political thinking is important. I think respect for the Constitution is important. I think not being an extremist is important. So I’ll leave you with that.”
The White House’s decision came after panel chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley said this week that he’d urged the White House to drop Talley’s bid and to reconsider Mateer’s nomination.
It was so bruising and embarrassing that Trump.45 folks, originally inclined to proceed anyway were force to withdraw the nomination entirely, and skulked back to his day job in the Administration supervising election attorneys. Now that’s a comforting thought isn’t it.
And then there are at least two pending good fellas for Federal Judge (Damien Schiff, Thomas Farr) who passed through the Eye of Camel Needle of the Republican Judiciary Committer, but still have not received a final vote from the full Senate.
The three nominees who have withdrawn are not the only ones who could have problems. Damien Schiff, nominated for the Court of Federal Claims, wrote a blog post that called Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy a “judicial prostitute.” Another, Thomas Farr, has been accused of lying about his role in suppressing the black vote in North Carolina. Both have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and are awaiting confirmation.
Committee yes, no full vote
And then there was the unexpected question and answer exchange between Senator Kennedy and nominee Matthew Petersen. In less than 5 minutes (about 4:45 actually), Kennedy, in a regular tone of voice, with no shouting or table pounding, asked simple direct questions which Peterson flubbed, every single one.
Kennedy’s evisceration was impromptu, he did not attend the hearing with long knives out. In point of fact, both Kennedy and Peterson graduated from the University if Virginia Law School, one of the premier law schools in our country.
We don’t really know what was in Kennedy’s mind at the start, but the fact of their shared legal Alma mater. To a sophisticated observer the straightforward questions about procedural legal matters should have been cream puff softball to any second or third year law student at any good law school, much less U Va. They were served up so Petersen could hit a series of home runs for the Trump.45 team.
A U.S. District Judge is not a legal philosopher or administrator. He or she is part of the backbone of Federal Court trial practice, the Legal Boots on the Ground Team. As for the obvious have you ever done this or that basic trial operation, Petersen’s laughable lack of experience should not have been a surprise. Even in the absence of competent WH staff work, any smart fella like Petersen should have prepared a list of responses to explain away his legal trial virginity as a lawyer practitioner. He was caught flat footed. Kennedy in an unscripted display took his legal pants down, and cut him off at the legs, while he sat there flustered and slack jawed.
I actually think Kennedy did a pretty good job of concealing his own disbelief at Petersen’s shockingly poor performance on a legal pop quiz. Though there is one telling photo of Kennedy looking somewhat skeptical. It is no exaggeration to say that this hearing was likely to be the single most important legal public presentation in Petersen’s entire legal career. I doubt he comes back for an encore performance.
Although for now, having been exposed, Petersen doesn’t disappear into some legal practice purgatory. He may not be on track for a super cushy lifetime judicial appointment, but so fat, he does get to return to his day job, as one of six Federal Election Commissioners