WASHINGTON (CN) - Two of President Donald Trump's picks for the Ninth Circuit endured a contentious nomination hearing in the Senate on Wednesday morning, including one who emotionally defended himself after the American Bar Association rated him not qualified because people it interviewed found him "arrogant" and "lazy" and raised concerns he could not be fair to gay and lesbian litigants.
The hearing for Ninth Circuit nominee Lawrence VanDyke brought up old arguments in the Senate Judiciary Committee about the American Bar Association's long-standing role in evaluating judicial nominees, with multiple Republicans calling for an end to the organization's involvement in the process.
"I think it is past time for the White House to stop granting the ABA special access," Senator Josh Hawley, R-M.O., said Wednesday. "I would urge the [White House] counsel's office not to make nominees available any longer to the ABA for these interviews. I think that should stop and I will no longer consider the ABA's recommendation on any nominee for any position for any reason."
The argument about the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary's role in vetting nominees has raged in the Judiciary Committee since the group gave a not-qualified rating to Eighth Circuit Judge Steven Grasz early in the Trump administration.
The organization has rated nine Trump nominees not qualified, including VanDyke, most often citing a nominee's youth or lack of professional experience, but sometimes criticizing a nominee's temperament or ability to be impartial.
As a result, Republicans and conservative groups have accused the ABA of having a liberal bias and not giving Trump's judicial nominees a fair shake.
The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group that advocates for Trump's judicial nominees, made this allegation in defending VanDyke ahead of his hearing, pointing to political donations the lead evaluator on his nomination, Helena attorney Marcia Davenport, has made to Democrats and to the incumbent VanDyke unsuccessfully tried to unseat in the 2014 Montana Supreme Court election.
Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, told reporters after the hearing that he would still look at the ABA's assessment of nominees, but that he agreed its work on VanDyke's nomination was "a pretty sloppy job."
VanDyke currently works as deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division but also boasts the somewhat unusual distinction of having served as the solicitor general of two states. VanDyke held the job in Montana from 2013 to 2014 and in Nevada from 2015 until he joined the Justice Department this year.
A graduate of Harvard Law and a former clerk to Judge Janice Brown on the D.C. Circuit, VanDyke also spent time at the firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and in the Texas Attorney General's Office, which has produced a host of Trump judicial nominees.
Despite his experience, the ABA Standing Committee rated VanDyke not qualified. In a letter to the Judiciary Committee explaining the determination, committee chair William Hubbard said people interviewed as part of the review process said VanDyke was "arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules."
"There was a theme that the nominee lacks humility, has an 'entitlement' temperament, does not have an open mind, and does not always have a commitment to being candid and truthful," Hubbard explained in the letter.