Several attorneys interviewed by the American Bar Association for their evaluation of President Trumps Ninth Circuitjudicial nominee Lawrence VanDyke say they were stunned when they read what turned out to be a scathing assessment declaring VanDyke Not Qualified to sit on the federal bench.
VanDyke broke down in tears during Wednesdays Senate Judiciary Committee hearing when he addressed and denied the letters suggestion that he would be unfair to LGBTQ groups. The ABA also cited accusations against the nominee ofarrogance, lazinessand overall incompetence from unnamed associates. Afterward, some in the legal community jumped toVanDykes defense.
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Absolutely outrageous and couldnt be further from the truth, is how former Nevada Attorney GeneralAdam Laxalt described the characterizations in the ABAs letter. VanDyke served as state solicitor general under Laxalt, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for governor last year,from 2015 to 2019.
Laxalt told Fox News he worked with VanDyke every day for four yearsand said he is incredibly hardworking and absolutely brilliant. While the ABA said interviewees thought VanDyke was arrogant, Laxalt claimed he was humble.
People just love the guy, he said.
Laxalts interview was one of 60 the ABA conducted for their evaluation process. He spoke on the phone with Marcia Davenport,who was called out by Republicans for having previously contributed to the judicial campaign of someone who ran against VanDyke in the past.
During the interview, Laxalt said, Davenport seemed completely disinterested in his glowing recommendation. He said she did not ask follow-up questionsand did not ask about any of the cases the two men worked on together, despite opening the interview by noting that nine of the 10 most important cases VanDyke listed were from his time working for Laxalt.
While the ABAs letter said that[t]he negative issues discussed in this letter were thoroughly discussed with interviewees, Laxalt said Davenport never brought up anything negative, and as a result he did not have the opportunity to defend him.
Joseph Tartakovsky, who was the Nevada deputy solicitor general for three years under VanDyke, said his interview with Davenport lasted five to seven minutes, during which it was clear to me that she was going through the motions, as she did not askfollow-up questions.
Tartakovsky said he was surprised and dismayed when he read the ABAs letter, as he too gave VanDyke a strong recommendation, saying he was an exceptional lawyer who would be good for the job.
I told her that I thought he was born to be a judge, Tartakovsky told Fox News.
Ashley Johnson, who worked with VanDyke for several years at the Dallas office of law firm Gibson Dunn, posted a Twitter thread about her experience being interviewed by Davenport, during which Johnson gave a glowing review.
The call lasted fewer than 5 minutes, Johnson tweeted, claiming that Davenport seemed to be reading from a script of questions before thanking her and hanging up.
Johnson told Fox News that the entire call seemed very cursory, and that she figured this was because Lawrence is so obviously qualified and of the highest integrity.
Another attorney who has worked with VanDyke, former Utah solicitor general Parker Douglas, found it a little surprising that he was not interviewed by the ABA, given his history working alongside VanDyke.
I was surprised by the letter, Douglas told Fox News.
The guys not lazy, I can tell you that, he added. He recalled having esoteric conversations with VanDyke about appellate procedure,called him a great appellate practitioner, and said it would be just nonsense to say otherwise.
The ABA did not directly address Fox News questions about their evaluation process, but William C. Hubbard, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, issued a statement.
The Standing Committee bases its evaluations solely on a review of integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament, he said, adding they are based on interviews with judges, lawyers, and other professionals who know or who have worked with the nominee andrepresents a composite of those interviews from the peer review process.
Hubbard also said that 97 percent of the ratings conducted during the Trump administration resulted in Well Qualified or Qualified ratings and that nominees do not receive Not Qualified ratings without additional review.
The assessment itself was scathing.
Mr. VanDykes accomplishments are offset by the assessments of interviewees that Mr. VanDyke is arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules,it said, explaining why despite his professional and academic experience, they gave him a Not Qualified rating. There was a theme that the nominee lackshumility, has an entitlementtemperament, does not have an open mind, and does not always have a commitment to being candid and truthful.
Twenty-twocurrent and former state solicitors general, including Douglas,sent a letter to Senate leaders in support of VanDykes nomination the day before the ABA issued their rating.
Our backgrounds, political philosophies, and state interests are diverse, yet we are united in our judgment that Mr. VanDykes character, legal acumen, and commitment to public service will make him an exceptional member of the federal bench, they said.
VanDyke also said during the hearing that he was shocked when he read the ABA letter. He was specifically affected by the claimthat there was concern over whether he would be fair to members of the LGBTQ community who appear before him in court, and the implication that his own ABA interviewsupported that concern.
No, I did not say that, VanDyke told the Senate with tears in his eyes. I do not believe that. It is a fundamental belief of mine that all people are created in the image of God. They should all be treated with dignity and respect, senator.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., perhaps shedding light on where such concerns may have originated, asked VanDyke about a 2004 op-ed he wrote about how same-sex marriage may be harmful to children. VanDyke said his views have changed since then, but noted that personal views do not come into play in his judicial decision-making.
Senate Republicans have put diminishing stock in the ABAs evaluations in recent years. In 2017, the organization deemedCharles Barnes Goodwin and Leonard Steven GraszNot Qualified when Trump nominated themto the Western District of Oklahoma and Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, respectively. The GOP-controlled Senate confirmed both of them.
At VanDykes hearing,Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., called out the ABA for an alleged agenda and suggested they lose access to judicial nominees as a result.
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The Wall Street Journals editorial board called the organization a liberal lawyers guild and described their letter as character assassination and a mess of anonymous personal attacks and innuendo.
Making the same suggestion as Sens. Lee and Hawley,the editorial concluded, It is free to oppose candidates for ideological reasons, but it ought to be stripped of its privileged role in the confirmation process.B: