‘The ABA has lost its credibility as a neutral arbiter. It should be treated no differently than any other special interest group…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) The American Bar Association has long been reputed for its leftward lean; few embrace the promise of an expansive and overly regulatory central-government so much as the lawyers who stand to profit most from it.
But what was once present in its back-room cronyism has come out full-force during the Trump administration, with the legal industry’s premier trade organization shamelessly joining the ranks of ‘Resistance’ social justice warriors.
With echoes of last year’s Democratic smear campaign against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, another Trump judicial nominee, Lawrence VanDyke, was left in tears following a slanderous attack from the ABA during his confirmation hearing for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It is difficult to envision a more principled, highly-qualified nominee for the Ninth Circuit seat than Lawrence VanDyke,” said a statement from Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director for conservative legal watchdog the Judicial Crisis Network.
“In his hearing today, he passionately and persuasively demonstrated his remarkable competence and character,” Severino said.
American Greatness reported that VanDyke, who previously served as solicitor general in both Montana and Nevada, was a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and has been an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Despite VanDyke’s sterling credentials, the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated him as “not qualified” in an overtly partisan letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Mr. VanDyke’s accomplishments are offset by the assessments of interviewees that Mr. VanDyke is arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules,” said the letter.
“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,” it continued.
More specifically, it claimed he would be unfair to LGBT litigants—an increasingly important area of case law that intersects, oftentimes, with the First Amendment rights of religious freedom.
A recent 9th Circuit panel, for instance, overturned earlier efforts to impose an injunction of President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban while activists waged an appeal of the ruling.
“No, I did not say that,” VanDyke responded to the claim that he would be unfair to LGBT people. “I do not believe that. It is a fundamental belief of mine that all people are created in the image of God. They should all be treated with dignity and respect, senator.”
VanDyke said that while responding during the ABA interview, he had been cut off and told they were running out of time.
The lead interviewer, Marcia Davenport, had previously contributed to the campaign of an opposing candidate, Hawley noted.
“Probably explains the totally ad hominem nature of this disgraceful letter,” he said.
The attack on VanDyke was not the first time the ABA had waded into partisan political territory.
“It’s not only disappointing that the ABA has given John O’Connor a poor review, but it is unfair that John was not allowed to respond to their criticism,” said Lankford. “For a legal institution like the ABA to deny due process is hypocritical.”
But Severino said the viciousness with which the organization went after VanDyke marked a new low.
“Even for the ABA, this is beyond the pale,” she said.
While Trump’s decision as a candidate to release the names of prospective judges he would consider for federal appointments may have won him points from conservatives during his campaign, some now question whether the strategy may have backfired by giving left-wing radicals more opportunity to gather ammunition for its partisan snipes.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the latest smear showed that it was the ABA that needed to be held more accountable, and, along with Hawley, questioned the practice of giving the partisan group unique access to judicial nominees for vetting.
“The ABA has lost its credibility as a neutral arbiter,” Lee said. “It should be treated no differently than any other special interest group.”
Others were even harsher in their ABA criticism, such as Mike Davis, who called it “a liberal dark-money group, fronting for trial lawyers who donate millions of dollars to Democratic politicians” and denounced its “fatally flawed” screenings as “intentionally structured to couple liberal activists with a subjective, black-box.”
Left wing judges have also joined the anti-Trump resistance, with many refusing to retire while claiming that the Republican president’s nominees were under-qualified. Ironically, some have accused Trump of “blatantly politicizing” the court.
Meanwhile, some far-left activist groups have said they plan to craft a list of “acceptable” nominees that Democratic politicians may draw from when they regain power and will wage a pressure campaign for senators who reach across the aisle to confirm judges that are insufficiently activist.