Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Nevada’s senators are 100% justified in their frustration over the White House’s nomination of former state Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The nomination came just days after Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen announced they were setting up a bipartisan committee to help them select judicial candidates to recommend to the White House.
Establishing the panel was a smart, responsible and commendable move. If the Trump administration were interested in finding the best judicial candidates instead of staging a right-wing takeover of the courts, it would have let the committee process play out.
As Cortez Masto and Rosen recognize, filling federal judgeships shouldn’t be a matter of party warfare. It should be about finding jurists with the right mix of experience, credentials and mentality to dispense justice without prejudice. In establishing the panel, the senators showed they take seriously their responsibility to fill vacancies on the 9th Circuit court and among U.S. District Court judges.
But the White House and the Senate’s Republican leaders, to their discredit, don’t see it that way.
The Trump administration proved that by short-circuiting the Nevada senators’ panel process and nominating a judge whose resume bursts with credentials as a right-wing ideologue. Not only was VanDyke part of extremist Adam Laxalt’s inner circle when Laxalt was Nevada attorney general, but as solicitor general in Montana he staunchly opposed same-sex marriage and gun safety legislation.
“The administration’s decision to put forward this nominee ignores the broad, consensus-based opinion of Nevadans,” Cortez Masto and Rosen said in a release. “Instead, the White House has chosen to move forward on their extreme judicial agenda. While we will review the full record of this nominee, we are disappointed that the White House has chosen to nominate a candidate with a concerning record of ideological legal work.”
Meanwhile, the Senate’s GOP leaders are aiding and abetting the administration in stacking the courts with extremists, having broken with a longstanding tradition of allowing the senators in a judicial nominee’s home state to block a confirmation vote for candidates they see as unworthy.
In contrast, the Nevada senators’ panel is designed to short-circuit the partisanship. Although there’s no guarantee that the White House and Senate GOP leaders will support a candidate endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans, the approach certainly increases the likelihood of it.
But politics aside, it’s simply the right thing to do. It would replace the partisanship and cronyism that are all too often the basis for judicial recommendations with an interviewing and evaluation process by legal professionals from both parties.
The senators, both Democrats, say the 10-member panel will be drawn from the legal community and be split between Southern Nevada and the north, with five members from each region.
Obviously, the success of the committee hinges on making it truly bipartisan and in bringing aboard highly capable members, but we’re confident Cortez Masto and Rosen will rise to the occasion.
At stake currently are two vacancies in the U.S. District Court and the Ninth Circuit position, in which Judge Jay Bybee of Las Vegas is scheduled to take senior status by the end of the year.
Cortez Masto and Rosen say they’re in the process of filling the recommendation panel and will announce the members soon. Nevada will join a group of other trailblazing states in taking the approach — Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
This is the way to go about it. Hopefully, more states will follow our lead, and the Republicans’ assault on the courts will be blunted.