Washington, DC – At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today, the American Bar Association defended its unanimous rating of “Not Qualified” on Leonard Steven Grasz’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Prior to the Trump Administration, the ABA only issued two ratings that were unanimously not qualified since 1989, and those two nominees were not confirmed. Two of Trump’s nominees have already received this non-partisan rating, including Grasz, while 49 of his 53 nominees have received a qualified or well qualified rating from the Association. Lambda Legal has opposed Grasz’s nomination and demanded that his nomination be blocked.

This follows an earlier Senate Judiciary Committee panel where they considered the nomination of anti-LGBT extremist Don Willett to the Fifth Circuit. Lambda Legal organized a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee with 26 other LGBT groups in opposition to Willett’s nomination and other dangerous nominees.

Sharon McGowan, Director of Strategy at Lambda Legal, said the following:
“The American Bar Association is non-partisan and non-ideological, so when they deem a judicial nominee ‘Not Qualified’ for a lifetime appointment on the federal bench, it is a very big deal. So when a nominee like Steven Grasz cannot clear the ABA’s minimum threshold of being deemed ‘qualified,’ the problem is with the nominee and not with the ABA. Senator Cruz’s domination of this afternoon’s hearing with his conspiracy theories about the ABA marks a new low for the Committee, and further diminishes the fading credibility of the Senate confirmation process. Steven Grasz serves as Board Director of the Nebraska Family Alliance, which has advocated extensively against LGBT rights. His appointment to the federal bench would cause grave harm to the LGBT community.

“But even a rating of ‘Well Qualified’ by the ABA does not relieve the Senate of its duty to determine whether a nominee can be trusted to put the law ahead of his personal beliefs, and to administer fair and impartial justice to all litigants who might come before him. Justice Don Willett received a ‘Well Qualified’ rating from the ABA, but his performance during this morning’s confirmation hearing demonstrated a lack of candor equal to the lack of judgment that he has displayed throughout the years. When asked about prior statements dismissing the seriousness of gender discrimination and disparaging working people who ‘place kids in the care of rented strangers,’ Justice Willett used every available tactic to run out the clock rather than try to explain his offensive comments. When challenged about his tweets deriding a transgender teenager, Justice Willett offered one implausible explanation after another to avoid taking responsibility for his cruelty. If Donald Trump is truly trying to reshape the federal judiciary in his image, then he has found the perfect nominee in Justice Willett.

“But unlike Donald Trump, Justice Willett has been nominated for a lifetime position on the federal bench. Which means that, if he is confirmed, Justice Willett will have a lifetime of opportunities to undermine the rights of LGBT people across the South, just as he has repeatedly slammed the courthouse door in the faces of LGBT Texans over the last decade.”

In an earlier statement on Justice Willett’s hearing this morning, Lambda Legal noted: “Senator Cornyn opened today’s hearing by stating that Justice Don Willett reflects the ‘best of Texas.’ We beg to differ. A careful examination of Justice Willett’s record demonstrates that he does not embody the values that most Texans would say that they support, chief among them being equality under the law and dignity for all people.” Willett’s inability to serve in this position as an impartial and fair justice became clear by his refusal to answer questions from both Republicans and Democrats. He also claimed that notions of “pro-life” and “pro-family” are statements of views of those who support him and not his own views, which his own record proves otherwise.