Senate Committee Advances 9th Circuit Pick With Bad Rating

WASHINGTON (CN) — A lawyer rated as not qualified, part of a scathing American Bar Association review of his ability to be fair to gay litigants, is one of two Ninth Circuit nominees advanced Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, left, accompanied by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member, right, at a meeting of the committee on Sept. 13, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump tapped Lawrence VanDyke for the appellate judgeship from the Justice Department where he serves as a deputy assistant attorney general.

In labeling VanDyke not qualified, the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary noted in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that associates of VanDyke whom it interviewed had described the nominee as “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue.” Colleagues of VanDyke alaso told the ABA they were concerned about whether he would be fair to all litigants before him, “notably members of the LGBTQ community.”

“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,” the letter states.

Describing its interview with the nominee himself, the ABA said VanDyke would “not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him.” VanDyke became emotional when he disputed this assessment before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October.

Taking a moment first to collect himself after he began crying in the hearing, VanDyke said he was “hurt” by the charges levied against him in the letter, suggesting the people who had expressed negative views of his work did so only because of professional disagreements.

“It is a fundamental belief of mine that all people are created in the image of God and they should be treated with dignity and respect, Senator,” VanDyke said.

Republicans and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have long argued about the ABA’s longstanding role in evaluating judicial nominees, with Republicans arguing the organization is biased against Republican nominees. Multiple senators at VanDyke’s nomination hearing called on the Judiciary Committee to no longer consider the ABA’s input when considering judicial nominations.

Before the 12-10, party-line vote to send VanDyke’s nomination to the floor Thursday, Democrats defended the ABA and criticized VanDyke, calling him outside of the mainstream and unqualified for the seat.

In addition to the characterizations in the ABA letter, VanDyke faced criticism for friend-of-the-court briefs VanDyke wrote for Montana and Nevada while serving as solicitor general in those states, taking conservative positions on issues like abortion, guns and gay rights.

“I’m sorry Mr. VanDyke is going to go through here on a partisan vote,” Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Thursday. “It’s a shame. I’m sure somewhere in Nevada I could even find a conservative Republican attorney or state judge who really would be qualified to fill this position. He’s not.”

In addition to VanDyke, the committee also sent Ninth Circuit nominee Patrick Bumatay to the full Senate with a party-line, 12-10 vote. Bumatay has worked as a federal prosecutor in San Diego since 2012 and also spent time in Washington as a counselor to the attorney general in 2018.

Bumatay is a three-time Trump nominee, opposed consistently by California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. In arguing against his appointment to the Ninth Circuit, Feinstein and Harris said Bumatay lacks enough significant experience in appellate courts to do the job.

“I believe that Mr. Bumatay does not have the appellate experience required of those appointed to courts of appeal,” Feinstein said ahead of the Judiciary Committee vote on Thursday. 

Bumatay told the committee he has handled nine trials in federal district courts and twice argued before the Ninth Circuit. He also told senators his clerkship with 10th Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich gave him a good sense of what the job of an appeals court judge entails.

The committee additionally today advanced the nominations of Philip Halpern, nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Bernard Jones, who is up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, and Barbara Jongbloed, who would sit on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

Halpern advanced with a 17-5 vote; Jones cleared the committee 19-3; and Jongbloed received unanimous approval.

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