A Trump judicial nominee appeared to break down in tears during his confirmation hearing after being questioned by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about his attitudes towards the LGBTQ community.
Lawrence VanDyke, a nominee for the liberal-leaning 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, shed tears after being questioned by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) about the American Bar Association’s classification of VanDyke as “arrogant,” entitled, and “lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice” of law.
The organization also expressed concerns after VanDyke “would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community.”
The ABA, which rates judicial nominees as qualified or not qualified and examines their temperament and their ability to serve as an impartial jurist, released a letter excoriating VanDyke’s qualifications and declared him “not qualified” for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.
It concluded that he would not be able to be impartial with LGBTQ plaintiffs or defendants who might come before the circuit court, according to Newsweek.
When asked by Hawley if he had said he wouldn’t be fair to members of the LGBTQ community, VanDyke responded: “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, and they should all be treated with dignity and respect.”
VanDyke’s nomination was previously flagged by LGBTQ advocates and civil rights activists as potentially problematic, with many citing an op-ed from 2004 decrying same-sex marriage, saying that it harms children.
He also alleged in that op-ed that other countries that are more tolerant of LGBTQ rights, particularly same-sex marriage, are infringing on the religious freedom of those who believe homosexuality is wrong and can be changed.
According to a letter to senators from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, VanDyke authored an amicus brief in 2010 arguing that college student groups had a First Amendment right to exclude LGBTQ students from membership. VanDyke later listed this as one of the 10 most significant cases in his career.
He has also advocated against the legalization of same-sex marriage and, as Montana Solicitor General, defended the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and advocated for religious exemptions for photographers that wish to refuse to provide their service for same-sex weddings.
The Leadership Conference also expressed worry about VanDyke’s ties to the conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, which regularly takes up cases opposing expansions of or legal recognition for LGBTQ rights.
“The Alliance Defending Freedom has defended proposed laws to require sterilization of transgender individuals seeking to change their name and gender on their birth certificate, and they have defended criminalizing same-sex sexual activity,” the Leadership Conference wrote in its letter. “Mr. VanDyke’s deep and lasting ties to this fringe organization demonstrate his acceptance of its radical agenda.”
When questioned by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) about his 2004 op-ed questioning the ability of same-sex couples to raise well-adjusted children, VanDyke claimed that his “personal views have definitely changed.”
“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,” he told Leahy.
Throughout the hearing, Republicans sought to malign the ABA as a partisan organization biased against them, while Democrats touted the ABA’s designation of VanDyke as “not qualified,” arguing that the Trump administration is attempting to stack the judiciary with conservative ideologues whose qualifications are questionable.
If confirmed, political activists allege, there is no way to predict how VanDyke — who is the ninth Trump-appointed judicial nominee to receive a “not qualified” rating from the ABA — would act on the bench.