Sen. Joni Ernst will make yet another choice, likely this week, on a judicial appointee with limited credentials and a controversial ideological background.
Lawrence VanDyke has been nominated for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the second-highest level of the federal judiciary and where the majority of contested laws and policies are decided. Progressive judicial advocacy group Demand Justice has called for Ernst to oppose his nomination and is running an ad campaign to bring the vote to Iowans’ attention.
The opposition is focused on VanDyke’s connections to groups that oppose gun safety legislation.
In questions for the record, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked about VanDyke’s positions on gun control and the NRA that he expressed in a 2014 NRA questionnaire. He filled out the questionnaire when running for the Montana Supreme Court and was seeking the group’s support.
In it, he said he would end his membership in the NRA so he wouldn’t have to recuse himself if the NRA was involved in a lawsuit that came before him. He also wrote that all “gun control laws are misdirected” and he opposes bans on firearms.
Demand Justice partnered with the Giffords organization, a gun safety advocacy group started by former-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to run the campaign. In 2011 during a congressional event, Giffords was shot through the head at point-blank range. She survived and has since become an advocate for gun safety.
Christopher Kang, the chief counsel for Demand Justice said in a statement, “Lawrence VanDyke would use his lifetime judicial appointment to advance the NRA’s latest strategy––using our courts to strike down common-sense measures to prevent gun violence. Senator Ernst cannot claim to be horrified by mass shootings and then vote for a judge who will reject any effort to address them.”
Ernst has received millions of dollars in electoral help from the NRA. She’s also advocated for right to carry laws that would allow people to conceal carry in states that allow the practice. And she frequently touts her gun ownership and refuses to commit to supporting gun safety measures.
Giffords managing director Robin Lloyd also put out a statement on the potential confirmation.
“Lawrence VanDyke’s pledged fealty to the gun lobby’s agenda disqualifies him from a lifetime judicial appointment,” she said. “He has built a record opposing gun safety measures approved by voters, legislators and the courts, no matter what.”
According to his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, VanDyke is a member of the National Rifle Association, though it’s unclear for how long.
He is also a member of the International Defensive Pistol Association and the Western Nevada Pistol League, those his membership in the latter ended this year.
In the hearing, VanDyke said, as a judge, he would consider the law, the arguments in the case and precedent when in court and he would put his personal views aside when judging cases.
The American Bar Association has rated VanDyke “Not Qualified” for the position. It cited 20 interviews with 43 lawyers and 16 judges and another person. All of the interviewees have worked with VanDyke through his career in four states.
On October 29, the ABA submitted a letter reporting its rating to the Senate Judiciary Committee. In it, the group acknowledged VanDyke’s 14-year legal career, but said there was more evidence to support the “Not Qualified” ranking.
“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,” William Hubbard wrote. “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.”
In particular, some of the interviewees raised concerns that VanDyke wouldn’t be fair to the LGBTQ community.
At the end of the letter, Hubbard explained how the committee makes its ratings.
“The Committee’s work is guided by the Backgrounder which reflects that judgment is a component of professional competence, and that open-mindedness, courtesy, patience, freedom from bias, and commitment to equal justice under law are components of judicial temperament,” Hubbard wrote.
Like many of Trump’s other nominees, VanDyke is young (46) and a member of the Federalist Society. So far, Ernst has a strong history of voting for Trump’s nominees, no matter how they’re rated.
However, groups are still calling on her to oppose VanDyke’s appointment.
“Approving VanDyke will put lives at risk by putting a proponent of an extreme, unprecedented view of the Second Amendment on the federal bench,” the Giffords organization’s Lloyd said. “If Senator Ernst cares about ensuring that the people’s elected representatives retain the ability to craft solutions to the nation’s ongoing gun violence crisis, she must vote no on VanDyke.”
The full Senate will vote on VanDyke’s appointment sometime this week. He passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Ernst sits, in late November.
by Nikoel Hytrek