Eighth Circuit Nominee Defends Himself In Face of ABA Critique

WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump’s choice for a seat on the Eighth Circuit defended himself before the Senate on Wednesday just days after the American Bar Association declared him not qualified to serve as a circuit judge.

The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary found Eighth Circuit nominee Steven Grasz not qualified earlier this week, the first time the organization has handed down a unanimous not qualified rating to a circuit court nominee since 2006.

The report found troubling the difficulty bar association investigators had getting witnesses to speak about Grasz, while also questioning his ability to “separate his role as an advocate from that of a judge.”

The bar association report in part pointed to interviews with people who questioned whether Grasz would be committed to following precedent on the bench.

The report also found his conduct was “gratuitously rude” and questioned his temperament, according to a statement explaining the decision written by Pam Bresnahan, the chair of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

“In sum, the evaluators and the committee found that temperament issues, particularly bias and lack of open-mindedness were problematic,” Bresnahan wrote. “The evaluators found that the people interviewed believed that the nominee’s bias and the lens through which he viewed his role as a judge colored his ability to judge fairly. It was also clear that there was a certain amount of caginess and at times, a lack of disclosure with respect to some of the issues which the evaluators unearthed.”

Republicans sought to downplay the report at Grasz’s nomination hearing on Wednesday morning, questioning whether the report was biased against Grasz because of his strong anti-abortion convictions. Grasz supported this suspicion, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee the bar association’s investigators negatively referred to “conservatives and Republicans” as “you people” during his second interview.

Grasz also said it was “made very clear” to him during the second interview that the bar’s investigators were against his objections to abortion.

“I have great respect for the amount of time and effort the American Bar Association put into the process,” Grasz said at the hearing. “I do respectfully disagree with the result.”

But Democrats latched onto the negative report throughout the hearing, questioning Grasz on the personal views and legal record he suggested earned the ire of the bar association.

“In sum, I think this is a pretty serious, unusual and damning report,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said at the hearing.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., pressed Grasz on how he would rule in abortion cases, calling Grasz’s views on abortion rights “extreme anti-choice positions.” Grasz offered Franken little substance, however, saying he would make decisions like whether a law puts an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion on a “case-by-case” basis.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., questioned Grasz about an amendment he proposed to the Omaha state charter in 2013 that would have guaranteed “religious freedom and right to conscience” to Omaha residents. Grasz said he “absolutely” stood by his proposal, but declined to comment when Durbin pressed him on how such an amendment would square with something like the ban on polygamy included in the act that allowed Utah to become a state.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the committee, has invited ABA representatives to testify about their process for rating judges before a Nov. 15 nomination hearing. Grassley said he initially attempted to have them testify at Grasz’s hearing, but that the schedules did not line up.

The representatives will testify before Grasz comes up for a vote before the committee, giving senators time to evaluate the designation, Grassley said Wednesday.

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