American Bar Association evaluators referred to conservatives as “you people” and prodded one of President Trump’s judicial picks on his personal beliefs about abortion before slapping him with the group’s lowest judicial rating, the nominee told Congress on Wednesday.
Leonard Grasz, nominated for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, received a “not qualified” rating from the ABA after the grilling. He said that during the questioning it became clear the ABA evaluators didn’t like his pro-life stance.
“I was asked repeatedly for my personal opinion on social issues including abortion — it seemed to be a great topic of interest to the reviewer,” Mr. Grasz, an Omaha based lawyer, told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The interviewer repeatedly used in a negative connotation in the phrase, ‘you people,’ and at one point, I stopped him and I said, ‘sir, who do you mean by you people?’ And he said, ‘conservatives and Republicans.’”
Mr. Grasz also said a reviewer questioned him about a white paper he wrote while serving as chief deputy attorney general of Nebraska that criticized the ABA’s role in reviewing state judges and their positions on Second Amendment and abortion rights issues.
His comments were the latest strike against the ABA and its role in the judicial selection process. Democrats have called the ABA’s rating the “gold standard” for evaluating judicial picks, and have suggested low ratings should be a black mark against nominees.
Republicans have been more skeptical.
The ABA told The Washington Times it would not defend the evaluation now, instead saving itself for a Nov. 15 hearing when the group has been called to testify to the Judiciary Committee about its review process and why it found Mr. Grasz “not qualified” for the federal bench.
However, the ABA did post a statement online following Mr. Grasz’s hearing, saying it is proud of the committee’s “comprehensive, nonpartisan reviews.”
“The committee does not take into consideration a nominee’s philosophy, political affiliation or ideology,” the post read.
Pamela Bresnahan, chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, authored Mr. Grasz’s evaluation for the Judiciary Committee and noted the review “is a nonpartisan process” in her eight page report.
“Mr. Grasz’s professional peers expressed concerns about his views of stare decisis, and questioned his commitment to it,” she wrote.
“In addition, a number of Grasz’s colleagues expressed the view that, in terms of judicial temperament, as evaluated by the Committee, Mr. Grasz is not ‘free from bias.’”
But Curt Levey, president of the conservative Committee for Justice, said the two members of the committee who evaluated Mr. Grasz were particularly progressive, and that in this case, it was a partisan analysis.
“Every now and again you have things like this slip through — like where the people who are appointed to do the evaluations are very far to the left,” he said.
“Most times, people who get unqualified ratings get confirmed anyway, so I suspect at the end of the day, it won’t make any difference.”
The ABA has been evaluating judges since 1953. But the ratings haven’t always been viewed as determinative in whether a nominee gets confirmed.
President George W. Bush didn’t wait for the ABA’s evaluation prior to nominating candidates for the judiciary, and Mr. Trump has decided not to wait either.
Republican lawmakers voiced concerns during Mr. Grasz’s hearing Wednesday about the ABA being political rather than a fair evaluator of legal qualifications.
“The ABA’s long history of political liberal activism makes it very hard to see how their process isn’t biased,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.
“Can you think of any possible reason why the ABA would need to ask you whether or not your children attended a Lutheran school?” he asked Mr. Grasz.
But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, pointed out during the hearing 14 of the 15 members, with one abstaining, on the ABA’s committee found Mr. Grasz not qualified, noting the report said he has “a deeply held social agenda” and a history of partisan politics.
“I would not try to advise this committee on the amount of weight they would give on that,” Mr. Grasz responded.
Marge Baker, vice president for the progressive People For the American Way, said the ABA’s evaluation of Mr. Grasz suggests he won’t put aside his personal views as a federal judge.
“This is someone who neutral observers agree would be a biased partisan in a black robe — yet Sen. Grassley and the Republicans still seem intent on pushing his nomination forward,” said Ms. Baker, referring to Sen. Charles E. Grassley.