Judicial nominee breaks down amid question about attitude toward LGBT people

A nominee for a federal appeals court broke down Wednesday while defending his record during his confirmation hearing. The emotional outburst came after he was hit with questions surrounding a negative report of his career.

Lawrence VanDyke, a Trump nominee for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, was asked about concerns that the American Bar Association (ABA) brought forth about his treatment of LGBT people. The group told lawmakers that VanDyke would not say whether he would be fair to LGBT litigants who appeared before him.

“I did not say that,” he said, fighting through tears. “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.”  

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The ABA sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday rating VanDyke, a former solicitor general in both Nevada and Montana, as “not qualified” following an investigation in which the group interviewed dozens of lawyers and judges who worked with him.

“Some interviewees raised concerns about whether Mr. VanDyke would be fair to persons who are gay, lesbian, or otherwise part of the LGBTQ community,” the letter reads. "Mr. VanDyke would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community.”

A “substantial majority” of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary voted to rate VanDyke “not qualified,” the letter said.

The report on VanDyke has not been made public, but the letter also alluded to other concerns that had been raised to the ABA saying he is “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules” the letter continued. 

“Even though Mr. VanDyke is clearly smart, comments were made that in some oral arguments he missed issues fundamental to the analysis of the case. There were reports that his preparation and performance were lacking in some cases in which he did not have a particular personal or political interest.”

Republican senators have dismissed the ABA’s rating as a partisan attack — noting that a member of the group's standing committee responsible for the Ninth Circuit donated to one of VanDyke's political opponents — while Democrats have used it to raise further questions about his qualifications.

"The Standing Committee bases its evaluations solely on a review of integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament," William C. Hubbard, chairman of the ABA's judiciary committee, said in a statement. "The committee’s work is insulated from, and independent of, all other activities of the ABA and its leadership.

"The evaluations are narrowly focused, nonpartisan, and structured to assure a fair and impartial process. No nominee gets a Not Qualified rating without another review," Hubbard added.

During Wednesday’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyMichelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE (D-Vt.) asked VanDyke whether his views had changed at all since a 2004 op-ed he had written that raised concerns about gay couples’ ability to raise children.

“My personal views have definitely changed since 2004, but as to exactly what my personal views are, senator, I don’t want to leave the impression that those would play any role in how I would judge as a judge,” VanDyke responded.

Updated at 7:51 p.m.