President Trump’s judicial nominee Lawrence VanDyke’s voice cracked and he shed tears at his confirmation hearing Wednesday when he was accused of being anti-gay.
The American Bar Association accused the federal appeals court pick of discriminating against LGBTQ people, as the president looks to remake the notoriously liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where he already has placed seven judges since taking office in 2017.
His ABA report, though, was conducted by an evaluator who had actually donated to the nominee’s political rival in 2014 when he ran for the Montana Supreme Court — a point Republican senators were eager to make.
Mr. VanDyke did not win a seat on the state’s high court five years ago, but he’s now up for a vacancy on the 9th Circuit where he faced pushback from Democrats over his conservative ideals.
“It is a fundamental belief of mine that all people are created in the image of God and they should all be treated with dignity and respect,” Mr. VanDyke said over his tears before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The attorney, who has roughly 14 years of experience, rejected the poor score from the ABA, which released a damaging review of the nominee the night before his hearing. The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary said it interviewed 60 colleagues of Mr. VanDyke who described him as “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in the knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules.”
“Some interviewees raised concerns about whether Mr. VanDyke would be fair to persons who are gay, lesbian, or otherwise part of the LGBTQ community,” read the ABA’s evaluation letter to the committee.
Mr. VanDyke said he never expressed any disrespect for such parties who might come before him if he’s confirmed as a federal judge.
“I obviously don’t agree with — and I don’t think those comments are reflective of the people I worked with throughout my career,” he told the committee.
Republican lawmakers called the evaluation “shameful” and blasted the ABA for it’s perceived liberal bent.
“The ABA has essentially called you a homophobic bigot. It’s a deeply serious accusation with no apparent basis in fact,” said Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican.
Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, said the ABA shouldn’t be granted access to reviewing judicial nominees for the White House any longer, saying the organization has displayed political bias.
“I will no longer consider the ABA’s recommendation,” Mr. Hawley said. “Their shameful performance in this letter, I think, seals the deal beyond any question in my mind.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, said the concerns over the ABA evaluation should not be laughed off and suggested the committee probe further into the matter.
“We have a responsibility here,” Mr. Whitehouse said. “We can resolve this by bringing in the ABA folks and letting them explain what the basis is for these charges.”
The American Bar Association’s William Hubbard told The Washington Times the evaluations are nonpartisan.
“The Standing Committee provides the Senate, the Administration and the public with candid, confidential assessments of the nominee’s professional qualifications based on interviews with judges, lawyers, and other professionals who know or who have worked with the nominee,” he said.
Democrats also raised concerns over Mr. VanDyke’s membership with the National Rifle Association, though, the nominee vowed to cancel his membership if he were to be confirmed to the federal bench.
Liberal advocacy groups raised concerns over his position as solicitor general of Montana, having drafted legal briefs supporting gun rights and pro-life legislation.
“Confirming VanDyke to the Ninth Circuit would be a severe blow to the rights of millions within the circuit, as well as an inexcusable elevation of a person so temperamentally unfit for a judicial role,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president at the People for the American Way.
Conservatives, meanwhile, said Mr. VanDyke is a highly qualified nominee, who demonstrated during the hearing his remarkable character.
“Despite the unfounded, last-minute attacks against him, VanDyke’s testimony forcefully conveyed his commitment to independence, fair treatment for all litigants, and dedication to equal justice under law,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network.
Mike Davis, president of the Article III Project which supports the president’s judicial nominees, said the ABA evaluator should be investigated for making potentially false statements to Congress, a felony, in the report.
“The Senate Judiciary should refer this matter to the Justice Department,” Mr. Davis tweeted. “State bars should also open ethics investigations.”
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