Matthew S. Petersen

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Matthew S. Petersen
FEC Matthew S Petersen.jpg
Chairman of the Federal Election Commission
In office
January 1, 2016 – December 31, 2016
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byAnn M. Ravel
Succeeded bySteven T. Walther
In office
January 1, 2010 – December 31, 2010
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded bySteven T. Walther
Succeeded byCynthia L. Bauerly
Member of the Federal Election Commission
In office
June 24, 2008 – August 31, 2019
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Barack Obama
Donald Trump
Preceded byHans von Spakovsky
Succeeded byJames E. Trainor III
Personal details
Born1970 (age 50–51)
Torrance, California, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
EducationUtah Valley University (AS)
Brigham Young University (BA)
University of Virginia (JD)

Matthew Spencer Petersen (born 1970)[1] is an American attorney who served as a member of the United States Federal Election Commission.[2] In 2017, he was nominated by President Donald Trump to be a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, but his nomination was withdrawn after receiving criticism for his poor performance during his confirmation hearing. On August 26, 2019, Petersen announced his resignation from the FEC, effective August 31. No reason was given for the resignation.[3]

Petersen joined the law firm Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Petersen was born in Torrance, California and raised in Mapleton, Utah.[5] He received an associate degree with high honors from Utah Valley State College in 1993, then went on to graduate magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Brigham Young University in 1996. Petersen received his Juris Doctor in 1999 from the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was a member of the Virginia Law Review.


From 1999 to 2002, he practiced election and campaign finance law at Wiley Rein in Washington, D.C.[6]

From 2002 to 2005, Petersen served as counsel to the United States House Committee on House Administration. During his tenure, he was involved in the crafting of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and the House–Senate negotiations that culminated in the bill's ultimate passage. From 2005 to 2008, he served as Republican chief counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.[7]

Petersen was nominated to the Federal Election Commission by President George W. Bush on June 12, 2008, and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on June 24, 2008. He served as Chairman in 2010 and 2016.[8][9] On December 18, 2018, he was elected Vice-Chair.[10] On August 26, 2019, he announced his resignation, effective August 31.[3]

Failed nomination to district court[edit]

External video
Senate TV Matt Petersen.jpg
video icon "Video Shows Trump Judicial Nominee Unable To Answer Basic Questions Of Law". NPR[11]

On September 11, 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Petersen to serve as a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia,[12] to the seat vacated by Judge Richard W. Roberts,[citation needed] who assumed senior status on March 16, 2016.[13] The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Petersen as "Qualified".[14] On December 13, 2017, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee that has since gone viral,[15] Senator John Neely Kennedy questioned Petersen about legal procedure,[16] asking if Petersen knew what the Daubert standard was, and what a motion in limine was. He struggled to answer.[17][18]

In response to the questions on his experience and knowledge, he said:

My background is not in litigation...And I understand, and I appreciate this line of questioning. I understand the challenge that would be ahead of me if I were fortunate enough to become a district court judge. I understand that the path that many successful district court judges have taken has been a different one than I have taken. But as I mentioned in my earlier answer, I believe that the path that I have taken to be one who’s been in a decision-making role in somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 enforcement matters, overseen I don’t know how many cases in federal court the administration has been a party to during my time."[15]

Petersen's answers received criticism in the press and from lawmakers. The New York Times described it as one of the "more painful Senate hearings in recent memory".[17] Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) complained that, of the "basic questions of law" Senator Kennedy asked, Petersen could not "answer a single one".[19] Legal scholar Alicia Bannon blamed Petersen's answers on "a lack of preparation and basic understanding of pretty basic legal concepts".[17]

Petersen withdrew his nomination on December 16, 2017.[20][21][22] On January 3, 2018, his nomination was returned to the President under Rule XXXI, Paragraph 6 of the United States Senate.[23] On January 5, 2018, the White House renominated 21 of 26 federal judicial nominees who had been returned by the U.S. Senate. Petersen was not among the 21 individuals who were renominated.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Petersen, Matthew Spencer. "Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees" (PDF). United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
  2. ^ "FEC Elects Matthew Petersen as Chairman for 2016; Steven Walther to Serve as Vice Chairman" (Press release). Federal Election Commission. December 17, 2015. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Goldmacher, Shane (August 26, 2019). "The Federal Election Commission Needs 4 of 6 Members to Enforce the Law. It Now Has 3". The New York Times.
  4. ^ "Former FEC chairman from Utah takes job at D.C. law firm". The Salt Lake Tribune.
  5. ^ "Utah's Matt Petersen resigns FEC seat, leaving the regulatory agency toothless". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
  6. ^ "Following his graduation from the University of Virginia School of Law, Petersen worked at Wiley Rein LLP for several years, which is renowned for its regulatory practice." Carrie Severino (December 16, 2017) On the Nomination of Matthew Petersen,, accessed July 04, 2018
  7. ^ Severino, 2017: "Petersen left Wiley Rein in 2002 to work on Capitol Hill, serving first as Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on House Administration and then as Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, one of the most consequential committees in that body."
  8. ^ "Matthew S. Petersen Official Biography". Federal Election Commission. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
  9. ^ "Chairman of the Federal Election Commission: Who Is Matthew S. Petersen?". AllGov. February 2, 2016. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  10. ^ "FEC elects Weintraub as Chair, Petersen as Vice Chairman for 2019". Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  11. ^ "Video Shows Trump Judicial Nominee Unable To Answer Basic Questions Of Law". NPR. December 15, 2017. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  12. ^ "President Donald J. Trump Announces Seventh Wave of Judicial Candidates". Washington, D.C. September 7, 2017. Retrieved April 21, 2018 – via National Archives.
  13. ^ "Richard W. Roberts". Washington, D.C.: Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved April 21, 2018.
  14. ^ Ratings of Article III and Article IV Judicial Nominees 115th Congress Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. American Bar Association.
  15. ^ a b Blake, Aaron (December 15, 2017). "That painful exchange between a Trump judicial pick and a GOP senator, annotated". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  16. ^ Bowden, John (December 14, 2017). "Dem senator bashes Trump judicial nominee over hearing testimony: 'Hoo-boy'". The Hill.
  17. ^ a b c Bromwich, Jonah Engel; Chokshi, Niraj (December 15, 2017). "Trump Judicial Nominee Attracts Scorn After Flopping in Hearing". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  18. ^ Hawkins, Derek (December 15, 2017). "Trump judicial nominee fumbles basic questions about the law". The Washington Post.
  19. ^ Green, Miranda (December 16, 2017). "Trump judicial nominee struggles to answer basic legal questions at hearing". CNN.
  20. ^ Merica, Dan (December 18, 2017). "Trump judicial nominee Matthew Petersen withdraws after viral hearing video". CNN. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  21. ^ Wheeler, Lydia (December 18, 2017). "Trump judicial nominee withdraws after humiliating hearing". The Hill. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  22. ^ Wagner, John (December 18, 2017). "Trump judicial nominee Matthew Petersen pulls out after struggling to answer basic questions". The Washington Post.
  23. ^ "Congressional Record".
  24. ^ Dupree, Jamie (January 5, 2018). "Trump renominates two Georgians for federal judgeships". WSB Radio. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
Political offices
Preceded by
Hans von Spakovsky
Member of the Federal Election Commission
Preceded by
Steven T. Walther
Chairman of the Federal Election Commission
Succeeded by
Cynthia L. Bauerly
Preceded by
Ann M. Ravel
Chairman of the Federal Election Commission
Succeeded by
Steven T. Walther