The confirmation process for federal judicial nominees has turned into a scorched earth battle fueled by character assassination and innuendo coming from faceless, nameless partisan critics who can never be held accountable.
This was evident once again this past week as former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke, who has been nominated for a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Trump, was excoriated and maligned by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee hell bent to derail his confirmation.
The committee members were aided and abetted by the left-wing lawyers at the American Bar Association, which rated VanDyke “not qualified” based on 60 anonymous interviews with lawyers and judges. The scathing ABA letter accused VanDyke of being arrogant, lazy and an ideologue, questioning whether he would be fair to members of the “the LGBTQ community.”
The letter said, “Mr. VanDyke would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community.”
VanDyke uncategorically denied this, telling senators, “No, I did not say that. I do not believe that,” adding that he would “absolutely” commit to treating everyone with dignity and respect.
The letter did not deign to mention the ABA chief evaluator was a Montana trial lawyer who had contributed to VanDyke’s opponent when he ran for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court in 2014. Bias?
As solicitor general VanDyke worked in the office of then-Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who in a recent interview bristled at the baseless allegations thrown at VanDyke.
Laxalt countered, “He is the most humble, hardworking, intelligent lawyer we could possibly have nominated for this seat. He is tremendous in every way, both personally and professionally. He is a great human being and his legal acumen was unprecedented in our 400-person office.”
Of the accusation that VanDyke refused to say he would be fair to everyone appearing before him, Laxalt seethed, “It makes no sense that, as she says in that letter, that she asked whether he would basically discriminate against this group and he refused to answer. That doesn’t make any sense. That’s impossible. Of course, we don’t know the notes. We don’t know the question. We don’t know the context, but there is no way he would not affirm that he would treat all persons fairly under the law.”
Ironically, the former attorney general noted, it is the other side that lets their personal opinions and philosophy dictate their written opinions rather than legal precedent and the law, noting that 90 percent of lawyers coming out of law school today are liberals.
As for VanDyke’s qualifications, Laxalt said he has practiced before the 9th Circuit and the Nevada Supreme Court more than any nominee he is aware of. Of the cases handled by VanDyke, Laxalt said his agency almost never lost.
VanDyke has successfully challenged the Obama administration’s overtime and “waters of the U.S.” rules, as well as DACA, overly restrictive land use plans to protect sage grouse and cases involving religious rights.
“I’m telling you 1,000 percent that he is a humble, brilliant, hardworking man. I think those three in a string because obviously they said the exact opposite, that he was lazy, lacks humility, et cetera, but he is the polar opposite,” Laxalt said. “If you sat down with this guy you’d walk away … I always call him the gentle giant. He is 6-7 and he is the most non-imposing, kind, seriously sweet 6-foot-7 man you’ll ever meet.”
Laxalt predicts, “Lawrence VanDyke will be confirmed to the 9th Circuit. I am not concerned, and the Republican senators that I have spoken to on Judiciary were appalled by this. They were incredibly upset and there’s no movement on his nomination. People are going to support him and he will be confirmed. We can expect everything on the planet to be attempted in a (Brett) Kavanaugh-like smear. I mean a non-me-too-like Kavanaugh smear. They’re going to do everything they can to kill this guy.”
It is all about power, Laxalt said, noting that Trump’s two recent 9th Circuit picks would change the court from being very liberal to being more conservative.
According to Ballotpedia, an ABA “not qualified” rating is not necessarily an impediment. Of 21 nominees thus rated since 1989, 13 were confirmed, six withdrew and two are pending, including VanDyke.
Both of Nevada’s Democratic senators, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, appeared on the Senate floor to oppose VanDyke’s nomination, saying he is unqualified, but really meaning that he doesn’t fit their ideological mold.
A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.
Lawrence VanDyke before Senate Judiciary Committee.