Why VanDyke’s nomination should make Nevada Republicans cringe

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Lawrence VanDyke at Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Oct. 30. (Committee video screengrab)

Quick recap: Lawrence VanDyke was imported to Nevada by Adam Laxalt when the latter was elected attorney general in 2014. VanDyke was fresh off losing an election for state Supreme Court in Montana. In Nevada, what VanDyke mostly did for Laxalt was sign Nevada on as a friend to whatever anti-Obama lawsuit was filed by some red state AG or other. On an ideological scale, VanDyke is somewhere between Laxalt and, oh, Rick Santorum.

Now, thanks to complete Adelson control of the Nevada Republican Party, with Laxalt as it’s figurehead, VanDyke got nominated to fill a vacancy on the 9the Circuit Court of Appeals.

And Nevada Republicans, at least those who aren’t on Adelson’s payroll, should be alarmed.

It’s not that Republicans would have qualms about VanDyke’s opposition to a woman’s right to control her own body, or VanDyke’s historical opposition to LGBTQ people being treated fairly and respectfully in society and by the law, or VanDyke’s support for the proposition that in any instance where corporate profits are pitted against, well, anything else, the corporations should win.

Those are things Republicans everywhere like about him.

Nor do Nevada Republicans seem to have much if any concern over VanDyke’s “Not Qualified” rating from his peers in the American Bar Association. Interviews with five dozen people familiar with VanDyke and his work revealed he is “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules,” the ABA wrote

Judging from their full embrace and deep admiration of Donald Trump, Nevada Republicans view that set of qualities as a feature, not a bug.

No, neither his temperament, ideology nor qualifications are going to give Republicans pause about VanDyke. The reason Nevada Republicans should fear VanDyke’s confirmation, you see, isn’t really about VanDyke. It’s about something else that Republicans in Nevada and nationally have been professing to hold quite dear lately: “process.”

For more than a century, the process in the Senate has been to almost always confirm federal court nominees only if at least one and more usually both senators from the nominee’s home state didn’t object to the nomination. Because the Senate is so, well, senatorial.

According to the Congressional Research Service, for nearly all the last 30 years, not a single federal judicial nominee won confirmation without approval — or at least lack of objection — from both senators in the nominee’s state.

Until last year.

In the last 18 months, Senate Republicans have confirmed a dozen federal circuit court judges over the objections of a home state senator.  In seven of those instances, GOP Senate approval has been over the objections of both home state senators.

VanDyke, who has been nominated from Nevada, will be the eighth.

Not that Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both of whom oppose his nomination to the court, think of VanDyke as a Nevadan.

“He didn’t grow up in my state; he doesn’t appear to own property there; he doesn’t seem to have family ties; and he was only an active member of the Nevada State Bar for two years,” Cortez Masto said on the Senate floor last week.

Rosen, to borrow a phrase Republicans will recognize, offered mega-dittos: “He wasn’t born in Nevada, he didn’t grow up in Nevada, he didn’t go to school in Nevada, and he doesn’t live in Nevada now,” Rosen told her Senate colleagues.

The Constitution has thus far proved inadequate to the task of coping with the likes of Trump and his sycophantic Senate Republicans. But Rosen brought up the Constitution anyway, and noted that yes it gives the president authority to nominate judges, but “it also required the advice and consent of the Senate, and historically the president consults with home state senators whenever there’s a vacancy.”

Alas, Trump’s sense of history is matched only by his sense of decency. Having no use for either, he did not consult Nevada’s senators.

So here’s a question Republicans may want to consider: Let’s say a Democrat wins the presidency next year, and finds a pro-choice anti-corporate social and economic justice crusader who supports things like an assault weapons ban and slavery reparations. And then the Democratic president (or “Democrat president” as Republicans say) nominates that person to the federal bench from oh, Wyoming or Utah or Mississippi, not only over the objections of that state’s Republican senators, but in contradiction to positions and preferences held by a majority of that state’s voters. Would you, Republicans, condemn that as an egregious affront to local values and an assault on, as you’re fond of saying, state’s rights?

Because that’s what Trump is doing right now with nominations like VanDyke’s and states like Nevada.

Some of you, and you know who you are, might even be old enough to remember when Nevada Republicans passionately demanded that an “out-of-touch” and “burdensome” federal government rein in its “government overreach,” respect the wishes of states and their residents, and not impose policies, or judges, that are wildly out of step with the values of local people … and local electorates.

With Trump’s nomination and, presumably, the Republican Senate’s confirmation of VanDyke, violating the values of the state’s electorate is exactly what the national government is doing to Nevada and Nevadans.

That disregard for a state’s people, that willingness to ignore a state’s elected officials, who after all were selected by a state’s voters … that should send chills up the spines of Nevada Republicans.

That it doesn’t just proves they think it’s okay when their side does it.

So go ahead Nevada Republicans. Rally ‘round VanDyke, which is to say jettison all pretense of respectful discourse that your beloved president defecates on each and every day. After all, it’s not like Democrats are ever going to win the presidency again, right? And if they do, even though Trump and his pet Senate are demolishing the idea that the federal government should show some respect for a state and its people, surely a Democratic president and Congress will save Republicans and put the toothpaste back into the tube.

Right?

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.