Justice may be blind, but the American Bar Association is not. That’s the biggest takeaway from Wednesday’s Senate hearing, when Ninth Circuit Court nominee Lawrence VanDyke became the ABA’s latest contestant on “conservatives don’t have talent.” Like most of this president’s picks, VanDyke probably braced himself for the Kavanaugh Treatment. But he never imagined the country’s largest attorney organization would stoop to label him “not qualified.”
How can a judicial nominee who graduated magna cum laude, “edited the Harvard Law Review, clerked for a top circuit judge, litigated extensively at the district and appellate levels, and served as solicitor general of two states be deemed “unqualified?” the editors of the Wall Street Journal ask. “Only if the group making the judgment is the liberal lawyers’ guild known as the American Bar Association, and the nominee in question is a Republican—and worse, an evangelical Christian…”
Ignoring his years of experience and credentials that are “right out of central casting” for an appellate judge, Article III’s Mike Davis insisted, the ABA’s rating dropped like a bomb. Blasting VanDyke as “arrogant, lazy” and “an ideologue” who “does not have an open mind,” the report was such an over-the-top thrashing that experts like Carrie Severino said it was time for the Senate to end the group’s role. In fact, the report was so wildly vitriolic (unsurprising, since it was authored by a donor to one of VanDyke’s political opponents in Montana) that even Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) thought the ABA should be brought in to explain.
At one point, the ABA even attacked VanDyke’s religious beliefs, implying that he wouldn’t be fair to members of the LGBTQ community—a charge so vicious and unfounded that Lawrence broke down in tears when Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) asked him about it. “I did not say that,” he insisted, his voice breaking. “I do not believe that. It is a fundamental belief of mine that all people are created in the image of God and they should all be treated with dignity and respect.”
For now, the group’s standing committee stands by its trashing of Trump’s pick as “impartial.” But Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah)—like Hawley—continues to be astonished that his chamber still takes the ABA seriously. As far as he and many others are concerned, the group has lost all credibility as a “neutral arbiter” and “should be treated no differently than any other special interest group.” Until there’s a thorough investigation into the association’s prejudice, he called for “suspend[ing] the unique access” that the ABA has to the confirmation process.
That would be a tough sell for liberals, Davis argued on “Washington Watch.” “Democrats feel like they’re beholden to the ABA because of the millions of dollars in campaign contributions from trial attorneys across America. When Democrats control the White House or… the Senate, they basically outsource their constitutional duty to provide advice and consent to the ABA…” They don’t mind using the ABA’s bogus ratings as political fodder, especially when it hangs good men like Lawrence out to dry. Fortunately, Mike went on, “President Trump and the Republican Senate see right through that. They understand that it’s their duty to be independent.”
And thanks to this administration, groups like the ABA—who’ve been hiding out as “neutral” parties for years—are starting to be exposed for their unapologetic left-leaning stance. As painful as this parade of character assassination has been for the president’s picks, it could force the Senate to reconsider how it conducts its confirmation business. If not, this process—one that’s stood up to centuries of partisanship—may never be the same.