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ABA Slanders Fail to Impress Senate Republicans

by Matthew Monforton Read Profile arrow_right_alt

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee weren’t swayed by an eleventh-hour hit job issued last night by the American Bar Association (ABA).  Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) described it as a “shameful exercise in political bias.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called it “ludicrous and laughable.” They were referring to an ABA “evaluation,” if you could call it that, of Ninth Circuit nominee Lawrence VanDyke, who was born in Montana and received an engineering degree from Montana State University before going on to graduate from Harvard Law School with honors.

As I wrote last month, VanDyke is one of the most qualified Ninth Circuit nominees.  Ever.

Erick covered this issue earlier today prior to today’s Judiciary hearing.  Now that the hearing is over, here are a few additional points worth noting:

1) The ABA’s claim that “Mr. VanDyke would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community” is an outright lie. VanDyke emphatically insisted that he would, both during today’s hearing as well as when he was interviewed by Helena attorney Marcia Davenport, the ABA reviewer who evaluated VanDyke’s nomination.  Or, more accurately, VanDyke tried to say that to her, but was repeatedly cut-off by Davenport during the ABA interview.  Further undermining the ABA’s attack is that VanDyke has represented LGBT clients, including before the U.S. Supreme Court.    

2) Davenport didn’t contribute just to Mike Wheat, VanDyke’s opponent in the 2014 Montana Supreme Court election.  She also contributed to a number of Democrats.  Even more telling is her contribution to Dirk Sandefur during his 2016 campaign for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court.  Sandefur’s opponent, a Christian attorney named Kristen Juras, devoted part of her campaign to discussing “the conflict between the right of the free exercise of religion and the right determined by the U.S. Supreme Court of marriage of same-sex spouses.” She suggested that “legislators should be trying to face this conflict and establish parameters and grant exemptions based on religious beliefs.” Sandefur had this to say about her:

[Juras] believes that LGBT people are sinners!  She believes that bigots and haters, in the exercise of their own beliefs, have a right to discriminate against you!

Sandefur repeated this slander throughout the campaign.  The “bigots and haters” he referenced are, of course, people like Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop.  Sandefur’s slanders were so outrageous that another Montana Supreme Court Justice publicly rebuked him for campaigning on “religious-based animus.”

Davenport’s support of Sandefur gives you a sense of how fairly she would evaluate a committed Christian nominee like VanDyke

3) The ABA letter and several Senate Democrats during this morning’s hearing left the impression that the 60 attorneys and judges interviewed by Davenport spoke poorly of VanDyke.  I know with certainty that that wasn’t the case because I was one of the 60 interviewees.  When I spoke to Davenport on October 2, I explained to her that, in litigating cases against VanDyke, I found him to be extremely courteous and professional without a hint of bias or prejudice.  I was not the only one with that opinion, yet none of that appears in the ABA letter.

I predicted last month that Senate Democrats would ambush VanDyke the same way they did with Judge Amy Coney Barrett a couple of years ago.  This time, they received a helping hand from a slanderous ABA evaluation issued the night before the hearing. 

This spectacle may, however, have a silver lining.  Sen. Hawley and other GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee made clear that the days of the ABA having “special access” to judicial confirmations are over.  So while VanDyke is certainly not the first conservative nominee to be backstabbed by the ABA, Senate Republicans might make sure he’s one of the last.


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