Mike Lee Slams ABA Smear of District Court Nominee

Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) on Wednesday slammed the American Bar Association for what he considered a partisan attack against federal judicial nominee Lawrence VanDyke.

Lee called for greater "transparency and a significant amount of accountability" in the ABA's process for either recommending or not recommending judicial nominees. He also asked that the Senate "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."

"The ABA has lost its credibility as a neutral arbiter," Lee concluded. "It should be treated no differently than any other special interest group."

The ABA alleged in a letter the day before that VanDyke was "Not Qualified" to serve on the bench, claiming he would be unfair to "persons who are gay, lesbian, or otherwise part of the LGBTQ community." The letter added that VanDyke "does not have an open mind, and does not always have a commitment to being candid and truthful."

Lee is not alone in criticizing the ABA evaluation of VanDyke. The First Liberty Institute, a law firm defending religious freedom, called the association's rating a "subversive attack" and "character assassination." The group's general counsel, Hiram Sasser, praised the nominee's record as solicitor general for both Montana and Nevada.

"This eleventh-hour attack and attempted character assassination of a brilliant lawyer was spearheaded by VanDyke’s former political opponent, and it should be rejected without further consideration," Sasser said in a statement. "VanDyke defended America’s most cherished freedoms—including the dignity of the individual and the freedoms of speech, religion, and more—as a public servant and in private practice.  Anyone who validates the ABA’s political smears is woefully ignorant of VanDyke’s qualifications and professionalism."

At VanDyke's confirmation hearing, Lee pointed out that a 2012 study published in the Political Research Quarterly revealed that the ABA exhibits "strong evidence of systematic bias in favor of Democratic nominees." He noted that in the case of VanDyke, "the bias is even more obvious, more egregious, and the ABA's purported independence is hopelessly compromised."

According to documents obtained by the Judicial Crisis Network, the ABA's lead evaluator on VanDyke, Marcia Davenport, was predisposed to rule against him. Davenport donated $150 in 2014 to Michael Wheat, who defeated VanDyke for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court.

VanDyke previously served as assistant solicitor general of Texas (2012-2013), solicitor general of Montana (2013-2014), and solicitor general of Nevada (2015-2019).