December 11, 2019
Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today highlighted concerns with Lawrence VanDyke, President Trump’s nominees to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I rise today in strong opposition to the nomination of Lawrence VanDyke to a Nevada seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mr. VanDyke’s temperament and integrity have been called into question by his colleagues and the American Bar Association, which rated him “not qualified” for the federal bench.
And Mr. VanDyke’s record – including his opposition to rights of LGBT individuals and commonsense gun control – is far outside the mainstream.
First, I want to discuss concerns raised by Mr. VanDyke’s colleagues regarding his temperament, competence, and work ethic.
The American Bar Association interviewed 60 of Mr. VanDyke’s colleagues, including 43 lawyers, 16 judges and one other individual who have worked with Mr. VanDyke in the four states where he has worked and who are “in a position to assess his professional qualifications.”
In its letter to the committee, the ABA reported that Mr. VanDyke’s colleagues described him as “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules” and stated that he “has an ‘entitlement’ temperament, does not have an open mind, and does not always have a commitment to being candid and truthful.”
As Montana’s solicitor general, Mr. VanDyke’s coworkers raised similar concerns. They noted that he “avoids work” and that he “does not have the skills to perform, nor desire to learn how to perform, the work of a lawyer.”
These concerns were echoed by six retired justices of the Montana Supreme Court who wrote that Mr. VanDyke “has neither the qualifications nor the temperament to serve as a federal court of appeals judge.”
Based in part on these assessments, the ABA deemed Mr. VanDyke “not qualified” to be a federal district court judge.
The ABA has rated judicial nominees since 1989. It has a process and standards. It has rated 97 percent of President Trump’s judicial nominees “qualified” or “well Qualified.” Mr. VanDyke, then, is a clear exception.
Mr. VanDyke’s record on LGBT rights is also deeply troubling.
In a 2004 op-ed, he wrote that there is “ample reason for concern that same-sex marriage will hurt families, and consequentially children and society.”
Lambda Legal rightly characterized this claim as a “stigmatizing and disproven myth.”
During his hearing, and in written questions, Mr. VanDyke was given many opportunities to disavow this statement, which is not supported by the research. He declined to do so.
I asked Mr. VanDyke whether the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges has harmed families and children, and I presented him with research showing that the children of gay and lesbian parents do as well as children raised in opposite-sex households. Still, Mr. VanDyke refused to disavow his anti-LGBT statements.
In its letter to the committee, the ABA reported that some interviewees were unconvinced that Mr. VanDyke would be fair to members of the LGBT community.
The ABA further noted that Mr. VanDyke “would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community.”
I am concerned based on Mr. VanDyke’s record and the ABA’s assessment that LGBT litigants cannot expect to be treated fairly in his courtroom.
Finally, I would like to highlight Mr. VanDyke’s long history of advocating against commonsense gun control.
As Nevada solicitor general, he undermined implementation of a 2016 ballot initiative – passed by Nevada voters – that would have closed a loophole by expanding background checks for private gun sales.
As Montana solicitor general, he called assault weapons bans “ineffective” and questioned the federal government’s authority to regulate guns in any capacity.
And while running for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court in 2014, he filled out an NRA questionnaire that highlights how far outside the mainstream his views on gun control are.
On this questionnaire, Mr. VanDyke indicated that he believes all gun control laws are “misdirected.” He opposed banning the possession, purchase, or sale of any firearm. He also opposed assault weapons bans and requiring background checks for guns sold at gun shows.
Mr. VanDyke even appeared to pledge loyalty to the NRA itself. He wrote on the questionnaire that he had stopped being a member of the organization because he “d[idn’t] want to risk recusal if a lawsuit came before [him] where the NRA was involved.”
Mr. VanDyke willingly offered these views when he was seeking judicial office. And so I asked him to answer the same questions from the NRA’s questionnaire as part of this nomination process. He declined to do so.
It is distressing that a nominee would offer his views on gun control to the NRA, but not to a member of the United States Senate who must vote on his lifetime appointment to the federal bench.
It is no wonder that gun safety groups, including the Giffords Law Center and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, fear that Mr. VanDyke has demonstrated a “clear lack of impartiality” and is “incapable of serving as an impartial justice.”
The Nevada senators strongly oppose Mr. VanDyke, in part because he lacks ties to the state. Their opposition is justified. It is hard to believe that this nominee, whose views are so far outside the mainstream and who is unqualified for the position, is the best the Nevada legal community has to offer.
Federal appeals court judges must be knowledgeable. And litigants must have confidence that these judges will treat them fairly and honestly.
Unfortunately, Mr. VanDyke does not meet these basic standards. I urge my colleagues to join me in opposing his nomination.”
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