A Trump judicial nominee broke down in tears when confronted with a letter from the American Bar Association that raised concerns about his homophobic past.
Lawrence VanDyke is currently being considered for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but tensions rose when he was confronted with a letter that says he’s unqualified.
At a confirmation hearing this week, Senator Josh Hawley brought up the ABA’s letter, which called VanDyke “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge.” The ABA letter also claimed that VanDyke refused to affirm that he would treat LGBTQ+ litigants fairly.
“No, I did not say that,” VanDyke said, his voice breaking as he cried. “I do not believe that. It is a fundamental belief of mine that all people are created in the image of God, and they should all be treated with dignity and respect.”
Hawley asked if VanDyke would treat “every living entity” who came before him with respect and dignity, to which VanDyke replied, “Absolutely … I would not have allowed myself to have been nominated for this position if I did not think I could do that, including members of the LGBT community and any other community that has been historically disadvantaged in this country.”
But VanDyke has a lengthy record of homophobia. As the solicitor general of Montana in 2013, VanDyke co-signed friend-of-the-court briefs in opposition to marriage equality. He also joined a friend-of-the-court brief arguing in favor of “turn away the gays” laws that would exclude queer people from nondiscrimination protections in public accommodations.
In an email interview with the Montana Great Falls Tribune, VanDyke wrote, “there is a fairly obvious collision course between religious freedom and gay rights,” and that he supported the case because it could establish “that gay rights cannot always trump religious liberty.”
He also joined with lawyers arguing that student groups should be allowed to refuse to admit LGBTQ+ members. In 2004, VanDyke wrote an op-ed at Harvard Law School opposing marriage equality, claiming that it would “hurt families, and consequentially children and society.”
In response to questioning from Senator Patrick Leahy, VanDyke said “my personal views have definitely changed since 2004,” and that his views wouldn’t affect his ability to rule.
Democrats also noted VanDyke’s history of opposition to gun regulation, environmental protection, and reproductive freedom.
The American Bar Association’s evaluation of VanDyke was scathing. In a letter, William C. Hubbard, chair of the ABA's standing committee on the federal judiciary, wrote that “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."
Hubbard went on, “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."
He’s not the first of Trump’s nominees to be deemed “not qualified” by the ABA. At least five others have earned a similar rating, such as L. Steven Grasz, who now sits on the Eighth Circuit and was found by the ABA to have exhibited animus toward transgender people.
None of President Obama’s nominees were deemed unqualified.
VanDyke is just the latest in a long line of homophobic Trump nominees. One out of three of his circuit court nominees has a demonstrated history of anti-LGBTQ+ bias, such as Stuart Kyle Duncan, who argued that that transgender people are delusional and claimed that marriage equality would “imperil civic peace.” Jeff Mateer, nominated to the Eastern District of Texas, described transgender children as “part of Satan’s plan.” Matthew Kacsmaryk, currently serving on the federal bench in Texas called queer people “unconstrained by nature and biology.”