WASHINGTON ― 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 The other two, both nominees of President George W. Bush, were withdrawn and replaced with other nominees after the ABA’s assessment came in.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) seemed baffled that Grasz was even getting a vote.
“A panel of nonpartisan legal experts unanimously concluded that this man is not fit to be a judge,” he said on the Senate floor. “What else do my colleagues need to know?”
The ABA interviewed more than 180 people connected to Grasz, who was Nebraska’s chief deputy attorney general for 11 years, in evaluating his fitness to be a judge. Colleagues described him as “gratuitously rude,” per the ABA report, and said they had an “unusual fear” of consequences if they said anything negative about him because of his “deep connection” to powerful politicians in Nebraska.
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. 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.”
“In sum, the evaluators and the Committee found that temperament issues, particularly bias and lack of open-mindedness, were problematic,” reads a statement by Pam Bresnahan, the chair of the ABA’s standing committee that reviews nominees. “The evaluators found that the people interviewed believed that the nominee’s bias and the lens through which he viewed his role as a judge colored his ability to judge fairly.”