Last evening, on the verge of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit judicial nominee Lawrence VanDyke’s confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the much-vaunted American Bar Association (ABA) released a shockingly ad hominem, scathing letter that concluded that VanDyke is “Not Qualified” for his proffered perch. The most shocking paragraph in the ABA’s letter accuses VanDyke, a religious Christian, of harboring animus against the LGBT community:
Some interviewees raised concerns about whether Mr. VanDyke would be fair to persons who are gay, lesbian, or otherwise part of the LGBTQ community. Mr. VanDyke would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community.
This is a vicious and malicious smear made against a good and decent man. Moved to tears at his confirmation hearing earlier today while questioned by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), VanDyke protested the ABA’s grotesque libel with an affirmation of the teachings of his Christian faith: “It is a fundamental belief of mine that all people are created in the image of God. … [litigants in court] should all be treated with dignity and respect.”
Lawrence VanDyke brought to tears because of the shameful and false accusation by the @ABAesq that he holds animus toward the LGBT community. Thank you to @SenHawleyPress for highlighting this injustice. The ABA has lost all credibility for trying to destroy this good man’s life. pic.twitter.com/4ARyHvw3Zu
— Gregory T. Angelo (@gregorytangelo) October 30, 2019
Fellow Judiciary Committee member Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) captured the essence of the whole sordid affair: “The ABA has lost its credibility as a neutral arbiter; it should be treated no differently than any other special interest group, which it is.”
"The ABA has lost its credibility as a neutral arbiter; it should be treated no differently than any other special interest group, which it is." pic.twitter.com/8DHwVOGq0E
— Nate Madden (@NateOnTheHill) October 30, 2019
To conservatives, it should be obvious that Sen. Lee is emphatically correct. The ABA, which has also attempted to claim other Trump judicial nominee scalps, is institutionally controlled by leftist trial lawyers and bigwig Democratic Party donors. As Thomas Jipping noted this morning for National Review’s “Bench Memos” blog, “since the 1970s, the ABA House of Delegates has passed hundreds of resolutions on all the hot political topics, all of them taking a liberal position.” In fact, the lead ABA reviewer of VanDyke, Marcia Davenport, is a partisan Democrat who once donated to VanDyke’s opponent in his 2014 Montana Supreme Court election. VanDyke, additionally, is qualified by any objective metric: He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review, clerked for the highly prestigious former Judge Janice Rogers Brown on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and has entertained a supremely successful career as an appellate litigator. Accordingly, the Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino opined: “The ABA has amassed quite the history of bias against conservatives over the last few decades, but with VanDyke, it has really outdone itself.”
Over the years, I have heard gripes from no shortage of conservative friends working in the judicial nominations arena that the ABA is a biased, left-wing organization that merely masquerades as politically neutral in the self-interested pursuit of its own institutional clout. This is undoubtedly true — and the obvious solution is to stop treating the ABA’s ratings with any respect. For both Judiciary Committee Republicans and GOP presidents alike, that requires a systemic disclaiming of any legitimacy for the ABA’s judicial nominee qualifications. Republicans must resist the urge to tout the ABA’s more customary “Well Qualified” ratings for even the GOP’s own judicial nominees. Only by refusing to play the ABA’s game, across the board, will the GOP ever make headway in pushing back against this partisan organization. Much like the judicial supremacist game, the ABA qualifications game is not something that conservatives can ever win.
There is no reason whatsoever to care about how the trial lawyer-dominated ABA vets judicial nominees. But for conservatives, that means that we literally cannot ever care — whether the ABA’s ratings are helpful or harmful to our cause. Only by demonstrating such consistency will we ever help discredit an organization that deserves nothing but discrediting.