Vetting doesn’t seem to be Donald Trump’s forte. One has to look no further than his 2016 campaign team to know this isn’t an alternative fact. Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos turned out to be less than savory characters. Michael Flynn, Seb Gorka, Tom Price, and “The Mooch” shouldn’t have made it past the first interview. And let’s not even get into HUD regional appointee Lynne Patton. Her resume’s a beaut! Trump tapped the former wedding planner and event coordinator to manage the nation’s largest Section 8 program along with its billion dollar budget.
Given this track record, you would think the Senate would certainly scrutinize the administration’s nominees with laser-like precision, especially when said nominees have the potential of influencing policy for decades to come. But we now live in the Trump era where up is down and left is right and norms are left on the mat like an unfinished game of Twister.
On December 12th in a narrow 50-48 party-line vote, the Senate confirmed Leonard Steven Grasz to serve on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Grasz was Nebraska’s chief deputy attorney general for more than eleven years and served as general counsel to the Nebraska Republican Party. “What’s the problem?” you may ask.
Even if Trump didn’t go over this particular nominee with a fine tooth comb, Republican Senators who gave the nod to Grasz can’t claim ignorance. Prior to confirmation proceedings, Grasz was given a rare and unanimous “not qualified” rating by the American Bar Association (ABA). In assigning the rating, the ABA cited concerns which were raised in confidential interviews with Grasz’s colleagues that he wouldn’t be able to set aside his conservative ideological beliefs. Both Nebraska Senators, Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer, recommended Grasz for the position and defended him during the process. Other Republicans have dismissed the ABA as partisan and called its rating a “hit job”.
The “concerns” of Grasz’s colleagues are shared by Democrats and liberal advocacy groups, but what are they? Grasz once referred to the legacy of Roe v. Wade as a “moral bankruptcy”. In another opinion he wrote, he said it was a “grave danger” for Nebraska’s Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriages from other states and that legislation refusing to recognize such marriages could be defended against unconstitutionality.
Grasz is only the third nominee since 1989 to have been given a “not qualified” rating by the ABA, but he’s got company in the current administration. Brett Talley, who Trump chose to serve as district judge in Alabama, has also received a unanimous “not qualified” rating. In fact Talley has never even tried a case in court.
To put things in perspective, in less than a year in office, the Trump administration has seen 12 of its appellate court nominees confirmed. President Obama had 3 with none of his nominees receiving the ABA’s “not qualified” rating.
Democrats are not only questioning the quality of Trump’s nominees, but also the speed at which they’re being pushed through the confirmation process. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is worried that the Judiciary Committee’s ability to properly vet these nominees appointed to lifetime positions is being compromised. “I’m concerned our role is becoming diminished,” Feinstein said on Nov. 30. “Our committee has never been a rubber stamp for any president’s nominee, and I don’t think we should start now.”
Midterms are in November. Congress and the White House have less than a year to spruce up their own resumes. I’d be guessing, but I’d bet the electorate won’t be so permissive when it comes to vetting them.
posted by Amy Levengood
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