By Juan Martinez
In the weeks ahead, the U.S. Senate has the opportunity to confirm a highly qualified nominee who will help make sure that the people of Nevada benefit from fair and impartial judicial decisions. Lawrence VanDyke has been nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to fill a coming vacancy. Senators ought to strongly support this nomination.
The Ninth Circuit is the nation’s largest, hearing cases from Nevada and eight other states. Together, the states and territories in this circuit are home to more than 60 million Americans. The decisions of the Ninth Circuit are often the final word on how the law applies throughout this vast region. It’s important that the Senate get this right.
In Mr. VanDyke, we have a nominee with an impeccable record. His years of legal experience include his service as solicitor general of Nevada, after having also held the same position in Montana (he would be the only appeals court judge to have served in that position in two states) and as assistant solicitor general in Texas. This critical and high-profile role meant that he was entrusted to act as the state’s representative in legal proceedings – including those before the U.S. Supreme Court.
He served as counsel on 28 briefs filed in Supreme Court cases and has argued more than 20 appeals – most of them in the Ninth Circuit, the court to which he has been nominated.
Currently an official at the U.S. Department of Justice, Mr. VanDyke graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was also an editor of Harvard Law Review. And – early in his career – he served as a clerk for Judge Janice Rogers Brown on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, often considered the second most important federal court. He is a distinguished appellate advocate with experience in both public and private service.
By any measure, Mr. VanDyke’s resume is outstanding. He has the experience senators ought to look for in a judicial candidate. But just as important, in his work throughout his career and during his recent Senate confirmation hearing, he has shown that he understands the proper role of a judge.
First and foremost, judges are called to set aside their personal or partisan beliefs and apply and enforce the law. Their job is not to act like elected representatives, shaping or changing the law and mandating that their views be followed. They must be neutral arbiters, adhering to the Constitution and defending individual liberty. They must faithfully apply and interpret the law, rather than legislating from the bench.
At his confirmation hearing, Mr. VanDyke vowed to put his personal views aside, calling that “a key and critical part of being a federal judge.” He promised that he would faithfully apply all precedents of the Supreme Court, and said that his goal would be “to look at what the Constitution meant to people at the time it was enacted.” He testified that it’s the responsibility of Congress to “change the rules—whether it’s statutes or the Constitution—it’s not the job of judges.”
He’s absolutely right. If a law isn’t having the intended outcome, it’s up to Congress to fix it. And if they don’t, they can be held accountable in the next election.
In addition to his academic credentials, professional achievements, and judicial philosophy, Mr. VanDyke is a nominee with a deep understanding of Nevada and the West. He represented the interests of Nevadans for four years as our Solicitor General. He grew up in Montana and graduated from Montana State University, and later served in government not only in Nevada, but also in Montana and Texas. He will bring a knowledge of our region and our concerns – one that can only help inform his work on the court.
In short, Lawrence VanDyke is exactly the sort of fair, objective judicial nominee that Nevadans should expect. Nevadans elect our lawmakers and we don’t need judges taking on their roles, or substituting their personal political opinions. Such a commitment to impartiality is essential to delivering on the foundational promise that all Americans stand equal under the law.
Nevadans can be proud of Lawrence VanDyke’s nomination, and we look forward to his swift confirmation.
Juan Martinez is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Nevada.