Metro

Brett Talley, controversial nominee for Ala. federal bench, has Mass. Masonic ties

Brett Talley in 2014.
Matt McClain/Washington Post
Brett Talley in 2014.

By now you’ve probably heard of Brett Joseph Talley, the 36-year-old Justice Department lawyer and horror writer nominated to the federal bench in Alabama by President Trump.

You’ve probably seen the unflattering headlines, too — from the American Bar Association deeming him unqualified to a Washington Post report that Talley failed to disclose in a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that he’s married to a Trump White House lawyer.

Less attention has been paid to Talley’s Massachusetts ties, which he cultivated as a student at Harvard Law School. He graduated from Harvard in 2007 and later took a job as a writer for Mitt Romney’s 2o12 presidential campaign.

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In addition, he identified himself in the Senate questionnaire as a member of The Harvard Lodge A.F. & A.M., a Masonic group based in Massachusetts that requires university affiliation for membership.

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“One of the many unique characteristics of The Harvard Lodge is that its members don their academic robes and regalia at the Lodge’s regular meetings,” the group’s website says.

The site adds that a “Mason’s duties are first to his God, then, to his family and those dependent upon him, and then to his fellow men.”

Among the lodge’s charitable efforts is the Masonic Angel Fund, which supports Cambridge schools and children in need, the site says.

Speaking on behalf of the lodge, Christopher Rooney of the Massachusetts Freemasons said Talley joined the Harvard group in 2006, but further information about his involvement wasn’t available Wednesday.

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Talley couldn’t be reached for comment.

He noted in his Senate questionnaire that the lodge is a “masonic, fraternal organization limited to men, although there is a corresponding organization for women.”

Also in the questionnaire, Talley described his duties working for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and GOP nominee for president in 2012.

“I provided research on legal topics and political issues, and I had primary responsibility for drafting op-eds for campaign surrogates and the candidate,” Talley wrote.

He’s backed another Massachusetts Republican as well, making two separate $25 donations to Charlie Baker’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014, state records show.

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Talley, who notes on his website that he spent time living in “witch-haunted Massachusetts,” is also a member of the Harvard Law School Association, according to his questionnaire.

He came under heightened scrutiny earlier this month after the American Bar Association rated him “not qualified” to serve on the federal bench.

“The [ABA Standing] Committee believes that Mr. Talley does not presently have the requisite trial experience or its equivalent,” said Pamela A. Bresnahan, a member of the Bar Association’s board of governors, in a Nov. 7 letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leadership. “I would also like to point out, based on its peer review, that the Committee did not have any questions about Mr. Talley’s integrity or temperament.”

With the passage of time, she wrote, “and the appropriate experience, Mr. Talley has great potential to serve as a federal judge.”

The Bar Association said in an earlier statement that its standing committee has deemed 43 of Trump’s 45 judicial nominees as either qualified or well-qualified and “does not take into consideration a nominee’s philosophy, political affiliation, or ideology.”

But Democrats on the Judiciary Committee did take issue with some of Talley’s prior writings on hot-button political topics, according to additional questionnaires posted to the panel’s website.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and ranking member of the committee, noted that Talley wrote in 2013 on a blog that he agreed “completely” with another commenter who described gun ownership as the “last defense against an uncommon criminal that an illegitimate government would become.”

Talley, in response to Feinstein’s query, said he “understood the commenter to be reiterating that ‘resort to arms’ would be the absolute last resort against a truly tyrannical government” and that he also wrote in response to the commenter, “ ‘We are certainly far from that place today, and I don’t think any situation in American history–with the possible exception of slavery–has called for armed rebellion against the state.’ ”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, voiced concern that Talley had previously argued that the government “has the authority” to order a drone strike on US citizens on American soil.

“Do you still believe that today?” Whitehouse asked. “What constitutional rights do you believe that position implicates? How can you assure this committee that you will protect and defend civil liberties based on this position?”

Talley responded that the “thrust of that writing was that Congress should pass legislation regulating the use of drone strikes on American soil in order to protect the civil liberties of Americans. Were I to be faced with a case involving the use of drones on American soil, I would apply the law and precedents of the Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit, without regard to my personal views on the issue.”

Talley, his Massachusetts ties notwithstanding, won’t have the backing of the state’s Democratic senators when his nomination comes up for a vote in the full Senate.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey will both be voting no, their aides said Wednesday.

John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.