9th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Lawrence VanDyke at his confirmation hearing Wednesday. (Senate Judiciary Committee video screengrab).
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats expressed deep misgivings about a Trump administration nominee for a federal appeals court on Wednesday, pointing to a scathing review by a legal association and his past statements on LGBTQ rights.
Lawrence VanDyke — who was Nevada’s solicitor general under Attorney General Adam Laxalt — was nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as a judge on the powerful 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Senate Democrats assailed VanDyke at his confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, pointing repeatedly to an American Bar Association evaluation released Tuesday that labeled him “not qualified” for the 9th Circuit seat.
That evaluation was based on 60 interviews with lawyers, judges and another person who worked with VanDyke.
Interviewees expressed that VanDyke is “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules.” There was a theme he “lacks humility, has an ‘entitlement’ temperament, does not have an open mind, and does not always have a commitment to being candid and truthful.”
Some interviewees also raised concerns about whether VanDyke “would be fair to persons who are gay, lesbian, or otherwise part of the LGBTQ community,” the evaluation said.
It’s “one of the most alarming ABA ratings I’ve ever seen,” said Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Leahy pointed to a 2004 op-ed from VanDyke, where he wrote that there’s “ample reason for concern that same-sex marriage will hurt families, and consequentially children and society.” VanDyke was a student at Harvard Law School at the time.
Pressed on whether he stands by his earlier view that same-sex marriage harms children, VanDyke said that the Supreme Court “has spoken to that issue and that’s the law of the land.”
As for his own personal views, he said they have “definitely changed since 2004, but as to exactly what my personal views are, senator, I don’t want to leave the impression that those would play any role in how I would judge.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also pressed VanDyke on his views about LGBTQ rights.
“I think we all bring a body of life experience to our challenges each day and to say that we can completely forget, discount and ignore that is naive,” Durbin said. “When it came to a formative period in your life in law school, you said some very painful and inflammatory things about people who are LGBTQ.”
VanDyke insisted repeatedly that he would rule fairly if he’s confirmed to the bench. He said he was “disappointed” and “shocked” by the ABA’s findings.
“I’m very, very hurt by some of the things that were attributed to me. I don’t think they’re true,” he told senators.
Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee defended VanDyke, complaining about the ABA’s evaluation.
“I think it is a shameful exercise in political bias,” said Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) pointed to VanDyke’s professional credentials, including stints as solicitor general in Montana and then in Nevada. “If this man is not qualified, I’m not sure who is,” Lee said.
Nevada’s two Democratic senators, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, have also been critical of VanDyke’s nomination. Neither of Nevada’s senators serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but they’d both be in a position to vote on his confirmation if it clears the committee and heads to the full Senate.
“We’re frustrated the White House is choosing to ignore the bipartisan work undertaken by our offices in concert with Nevada’s legal community to identify and recommend qualified Nevadans for the Ninth Circuit,” the Nevada senators said in a joint statement after VanDyke’s nomination was announced.
“The Administration’s decision to put forward this nominee ignores the broad, consensus-based opinion of Nevadans. Instead, the White House has chosen to move forward on their extreme judicial agenda. While we will review the full record of this nominee, we are disappointed that the White House has chosen to nominate a candidate with a concerning record of ideological legal work.”
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