The Huffington Post was only one of several outlets reporting on the confirmation of yet another unqualified (but politically and ideologically acceptable) nominee to the federal bench.
The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, Leonard Steven Grasz, despite the fact that Grasz earned an embarrassing and unanimous “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.
Every Republican present voted to confirm Grasz, 56, to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. That includes moderates like Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), as well as retiring Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.). Every Democrat opposed him in the 50-48 vote.
It is extremely rare for the Senate to confirm a judge with such an abysmal rating from the national legal organization. The ABA has reviewed more than 1,700 federal judicial nominees since 1989, and only three, including Grasz, have been deemed unanimously unqualified. The other two, both nominees of President George W. Bush, were withdrawn and replaced with other nominees after the ABA’s assessment came in.
Lest you be tempted to dismiss the ABA’s rating, the panel had interviewed more than 180 people familiar with Grasz, who had served as Nebraska’s chief deputy attorney general for 11 years and was thus well-known to practitioners in the state.
He was described by people who knew him and lawyers who’d worked with him as “gratuitously rude.” Far more concerning, a number of people reported having an “unusual fear of consequences” if they said anything negative about him because of his “deep connection” to powerful politicians in Nebraska. (Perhaps his evident petulance and thin skin are what commended him to Trump, who exhibits similar characteristics.)
So why would the GOP elevate someone who appears to be an unqualified asshole to a circuit court position requiring a modicum of tact and a judicial temperament? There are literally hundreds of highly qualified Republican lawyers–why choose someone so unfit to serve?
ABA members also raised concerns that Grasz would be “unable to separate his role as an advocate from that of a judge,” given his record on issues like LGBTQ and abortion rights. Among other things, Grasz served on a nonprofit board that backed so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ kids, and in a 1999 article argued that lower courts should be able to overrule Supreme Court decisions on abortion rights because “abortion jurisprudence is, to a significant extent, a word game.”
Putting someone on the bench who believes that a circuit court could–or should–“overrule” the Supreme Court when they issue a decision he dislikes is incomprehensible. Or should be.
In the wake of the elections in Virginia and Alabama, I’ve begun to hold out hope that Trumpism will be limited–that the 2018 elections will put adults back in charge of Congress, and that Trump/Pence will be gone once Muller completes his work. Worst case scenario, by 2020 much of the damage being done–to our position in world, to the environment, to public education, to the poor–can be undone, or at least mitigated.
But not the courts. The ideologues and incompetents being nominated and confirmed to the federal courts will be there for life, and if there are enough of them, they can change the course of American jurisprudence for a hundred years.
There are many things the Congressional GOP is doing that horrify me–passing policies that hurt the most vulnerable while enriching their donors and patrons, “culture war” tidbits they are throwing to their frightened, racist and uneducated base to keep them subdued. But subverting the rule of law by placing zealots and know-nothings rather than principled conservatives on the federal bench ranks as the most despicable action of all.
I think it was Maya Angelou who said “When people tell you who they are, believe them.” Today’s Republican party is telling us who they are, and it isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s nauseating.