By Ross Miller
The American judicial system as we know it is under attack. On Wednesday, the Senate held a confirmation hearing to approve former Nevada and Montana Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke’s nomination the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Lawrence VanDyke has never served as a judge.
In fact, VanDyke was barely qualified to serve as Solicitor General in Nevada. While serving as Solicitor General under former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, VanDyke was given an unprecedented special dispensation to practice law in the state after failing to take the state Bar Exam within the two-year window set by Supreme Court Rule 49.8. VanDyke not only took advantage of the rule but flagrantly disregarded its reasonable constraints, forcing the state Supreme Court to take unprecedented action to prevent a lawsuit.
VanDyke’s disregard for the rule of law, which a Circuit Court justice should respect and seek to uphold rather than circumvent, is the first in a laundry list of red flags displayed by the Trump nominee. When VanDyke ran for the Montana Supreme Court in 2014, he was removed by from the ballot by the Montana Supreme Court after not meeting eligibility requirements. While the decision was overturned on appeal, VanDyke lost the seat to incumbent Michael E. Wheat.
To put it simply, an aspiring judge, solicitor general, or lawyer for that matter, continuously exploiting the law and overriding precedent in order to ascend to a more powerful position is an indicator that they should not hold that position in the first place. In fact, the American Bar Association has rated VanDyke “not qualified” to serve as a Ninth Circuit judge for precisely that reason.
Appointed judgeships were once seen as the pinnacle of a lawyer’s career. Such an appointment should represent the culmination of a career of hard work and focused judicial decisions backed up by strong legal precedent, demonstrating to the American People and the country’s highest elected officials one’s ability to make sound legal decisions based on facts, separate from the political appointment that got you there.
Instead, Lawrence VanDyke has not only chosen to circumvent existing laws and exploit their loopholes to ascend to positions of power, but his record while holding those positions of power poses an even greater moral quandary to those vying to confirm him. VanDyke has openly stated that he believes the ruling in Roe v. Wade should be challenged even though a record number of Americans support access to safe, legal abortion. VanDyke also used his position as Montana Solicitor General to advocate against LGBTQ+ rights.
And in his free time? VanDyke is an active member of the Federalist Society, and has ties to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and has spoken at several ADF conferences and events. The Alliance Defending Freedom is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Knowing both VanDyke’s troubling credentials and his ideologically-extreme legal advocacy, Nevada U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen have vocally opposed VanDyke’s appointment, noting that the Trump administration ignored their efforts to find a consensus candidate. Prior to the Trump administration, appointments were often made by consensus with senators in an effort to best reflect the will of the people the court would represent. With the nomination of Lawrence VanDyke, that has all gone out the window.
VanDyke has made it his life’s work to oppress the rights and lives of those who are different from him. The American people do not share his extreme and dangerous views, and there are over 150 federal court Trump-appointed judges whose values and work mirror that of VanDykes. Their presence in the federal court system will present one of the greatest challenges to American democracy in our lifetime.
Ross Miller is a former Nevada Secretary of State. He is a law partner at Clark Hill Law Firm in Las Vegas, where he specializes in civil investigations, election law, administrative law, and risk mitigation.