Trump judicial pick breaks down in tears at hearing over legal group's attack
One of President Trump's nominees for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals broke down in tears during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, as he disputed suggestions that he would not be fair to members of the LGBTQ community.
Lawrence VanDyke was the subject of a scathing letter from the American Bar Association, sent to committee leadership Tuesday night, which alleged that people they interviewed expressed this concern, and that VanDyke himself "would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community."
But conservatives have adamantly defended the nominee. And when asked about this at Wednesday's hearing, VanDyke strongly disputed the ABA's account.
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"I did not say that," VanDyke told Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., tears welling up in his eyes.
"No, I did not say that. 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," he added, sobbing.
VanDyke also said that he was not given a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations during his ABA interview. He said when he was confronted with the concerns about his views, he began to answer but was told they were running out of time.
That interview was conducted by Marcia Davenport, the lead evaluator. Hawley noted that Davenport once contributed to the campaign of a judicial candidate who was running against VanDyke.
"I find that absolutely unbelievable," Hawley said, stating it "probably explains the totally ad hominem nature of this disgraceful letter."
The paragraph preceding the questioning of his attitude toward LGBTQ litigants included a list of other complaints against VanDyke, attributed to "the assessments of interviewees," without detailing who or how many.
"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," it said, explaining why despite his professional and academic experience, they gave him a "Not Qualified" rating. "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 ABA did note that VanDyke, a Harvard Law School graduate and former solicitor general for Montana and Nevada, is "clearly smart."
The assessment drew a backlash from conservative groups.
"Even for the ABA, this is beyond the pale," the Judicial Crisis Network's Carrie Severino said in a statement, accusing the ABA of "bias against conservative nominees to the judiciary."
Former Nevada State Bar president Alan Lefebvre also blasted the ABA's evaluation in a statement prior to the hearing.
"Lawrence’s reputation for excellence in all he strives to do shines through by a sampling of his written product,” Lefebvre said, citing a number of cases on which VanDyke worked in the past. “It would be impossible for a reviewer to challenge such a qualified nominee’s abilities unless he was yoked with an ideologue’s agenda.”
The ABA did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment.
Earlier in the hearing, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, brought up the ABA's letter.
"The ABA has essentially called you a homophobic bigot," Lee said to VanDyke. Earlier, he asked, "Do you have any personal animus against LGBT persons?"
"No, senator," VanDyke replied, going on to add that he would not be influenced by a litigant's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Lee then addressed the ABA itself, chastising them for the nature of their evaluation and questioning their methods.
"The time has come, Mr. Chairman," Lee said, "to suspend the unique access that the American Bar Association has, until such time as a thorough investigation and review is undertaken to inquire into how these functions are performed."
Hawley made a similar declaration, urging the White House counsel's office "not to make nominees available any longer to the ABA for these interviews," and that "they should be treated like any other special interest group."
The ABA's letter said the evaluation was based on 60 interviews but did not say who or how many people expressed concerns about VanDyke's LGBTQ views.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., perhaps shedding light on where such concerns may have originated, asked VanDyke about a 2004 op-ed he wrote about how same-sex marriage may be harmful to children. VanDyke said his views have changed since then, but noted that personal views do not come into play in his judicial decision-making.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked VanDyke about his beliefs regarding situations where gay rights may be at odds with religious freedom. VanDyke recalled a pro bono case he worked on that dealt with such issues.
"One of my favorite cases was a case where I represented an LGBTQ advocacy group in the United States Supreme Court in a case involving religious liberty," he said. “In the position we were in, it was illustrating that there doesn’t have to be a conflict.”
Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., took a more subtle approach to the LGBTQ issue at the beginning of the hearing.
"Do you think you can be fair to anybody who comes before you?" Graham asked.
"Absolutely, Chairman," VanDyke replied.
"Do you know Patrick over here?" Graham said, referring to VanDyke's fellow Ninth Circuit nominee, Patrick Bumatay, who is gay. "Could you be fair to him?"
"I would sure hope so. Yes, I would," VanDyke said.