- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 31, 2017

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The American Bar Association has issued a rare “not qualified” rating to an Omaha attorney and former state prosecutor who has been nominated for a seat on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The association released a statement Monday saying its 15-member committee on the federal judiciary had unanimously found, with one abstention, that Steve Grasz is not qualified to fill the vacancy on the appellate court, citing reports by two evaluators for the ABA. More than 200 people, including lawyers, judges and other associated with Grasz, were contacted by the investigators. Among those willing to speak openly to the investigators, “a clear, consistent pattern” emerged regarding concerns about Grasz’s temperament and his ability to set aside his personal bias in some areas in carrying out his judicial duties, said the committee’s chairwoman, Pamela Bresnahan.

The statement cited Grasz’s anti-abortion advocacy, pointing particularly to a 1991 article he wrote that the committee said showed his unwillingness to accept U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding abortion.

“The evaluators found that the people interviewed believed that the nominee’s bias and the lens through which he viewed his role as a judge colored his ability to judge fairly,” the statement said. “It was also clear that there was a certain amount of caginess, and, at times, a lack of disclosure with respect to some of the issues which the evaluators unearthed.”

Of the hundreds of judicial nominations made since 1989, the committee has deemed only a handful not qualified, according to the ABA’s website.

Grasz was out of the office Tuesday and did not immediately return a message left for him there by The Associated Press.

Grasz is senior counsel at Husch Blackwell in Omaha. He served as chief deputy attorney general for the state from 1991 to 2002.

He was nominated in August by President Donald Trump to fill a vacancy in the 8th Circuit, based in St. Louis, after Chief Judge William Jay Riley announced his plans to retire from active service. Nebraska’s U.S. senators - Republicans Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse - had recommended Grasz to Trump for the slot.

Sasse’s office took issue with the ABA’s rating, saying the ABA has a “long history of politically liberal activism.” The association says its process of evaluating judicial nominees is nonpartisan.

“It’s sad that the ABA would contort their ratings process to try to tarnish Steve’s professional reputation in order to drive a political agenda,” Sasse said in a statement.

His office also pointed to a glowing endorsement letter from Deb Gilg, who served as U.S. Attorney for Nebraska under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017. The Sept. 19 letter was sent to ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Steve has always enjoyed a reputation for honesty, impeccable integrity and dedication to the rule of law,” Gilg’s letter said. “He possesses an even temperament well-suited for the bench and always acts with respect to all that interact with him.”

Grasz’s Senate nomination hearing is set for Wednesday.

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