Nov 09 2017

VIDEO: Fischer Challenges ABA’s Biased Rating of Steve Grasz on Senate Floor

“These tactics used by the ABA are not right. They show contempt for ideas that do not fit the interviewer’s personal beliefs and in no way portray an attempt to carefully consider whether or not Steve Grasz is capable of being a fair judge.”

Click here or on the image above to view today’s speech

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) took to the Senate floor today in defense of Steve Grasz, an outstanding Nebraskan and the nominee to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In her remarks, Fischer addresses the American Bar Association’s “not qualified” rating of Steve, which she calls a “partisan, shameful attack.”

Last week, Senator Fischer introduced Steve during his nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee has not yet voted to advance Steve’s nomination. Once Steve’s nomination clears committee, it heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

Senator Fischer’s full floor remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.

M. President, I rise today to share my strong support for Steve Grasz, who has been nominated by President Trump to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

The junior Senator from Nebraska and I conducted asked Nebraskans to express their interest in the position, and we conducted a thorough process of the applicants.

And I must say, M. President, with more than 5,700 lawyers, Nebraska proved itself to have a talented legal community who have demonstrated an unwavering dedication to the rule of law.

However, in our search, one candidate stood out above the rest: Steve Grasz.

He is an outstanding Nebraskan and a talented legal mind.

The president agreed. That is why he accepted our recommendation in August and nominated Steve for the 8th Circuit.

Like so many other Nebraskans I have heard from during this process, the president recognized Steve’s temperament, intellect, and skill as worthy of a seat on the federal bench.

Steve excelled in his education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska College of Law.

He then built a distinguished legal career practicing appellate litigation over the past three decades.

For 12 years, Steve served Nebraska as the Chief Deputy Attorney General. He did so with dedication to justice, passionately defending our citizens and upholding the laws of our state.

Steve has handled numerous constitutional litigation matters in the Nebraska Supreme Court, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

In doing so, he’s earned the respect of the Nebraska legal community.

For many years, Steve has earned the Martindale Hubbell AV-Preeminent peer review rating, the very highest available. This peer-reviewed rating is based on legal knowledge and ethical standards, not partisan litmus tests.

Steve also serves on the Executive Committee of the Appellate Practice Section of the Nebraska Bar Association and was selected as a Fellow by the Nebraska State Bar Foundation, an honor reserved for only the top lawyers in my state.

Nebraskans agree Steve has the extensive legal experience needed to serve on the Eighth Circuit, yet the American Bar Association has rated Steve as “Not Qualified” for this position on the federal bench.

As someone who spent months reviewing Steve’s extraordinary qualifications for this judgeship, I was shocked when I heard their assessment.

Something didn’t add up.

But after a review of how the evaluation was conducted, things became more clear.

The ABA rating of Steve Grasz appears to be based on his work defending Nebraska’s pro-life laws, as well as his personal views, which he shares with a majority of Nebraskans. Both evaluators discounted his remarkable legal career, choosing instead to focus on innuendo in their report because he associates with political organizations they disagree with.

There is nothing wrong with participating in the democratic process. Indeed, Steve’s own evaluators have done just that.

Steve’s first evaluator, Cynthia Nance, has received several awards from affiliates of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

And his second evaluator, Laurence Pulgram, a San Francisco attorney, works as a liberal activist and has donated thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party.

Again, the fact that these Americans have decided to engage in the political process is not shameful.

They have every right to do so just like everyone else.

But here’s the problem: They claim to be leading an impartial evaluation of Steve, when in fact, they are really trying to take down his nomination and further their own political agenda.

A deeper review of the ABA evaluation shows a report long on anonymous sources and short on substantiated evidence.

This isn’t the first time the ABA has been criticized for using “anonymous sources,” either.

In 2006, while discussing Vanessa Bryan’s ABA rating, the senior senator from Connecticut stated, quote “I have even greater concern with the credibility of anonymous sources when those sources are used as evidence for a subjective characteristic such as judicial temperament….I urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to only consider anonymous criticisms when such criticisms can be verified from other sources.”

Even worse, M. President, the sourced evidence the ABA produced for their report doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, either.

One of the nation’s leading experts on judicial appointments also agrees that the facts are few when it comes to Steve’s ABA rating.

In his examination, Ed Whelan, the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, called the ABA evaluation “feeble beyond the point of incompetence” because it “selectively quotes” portions of an article written by Grasz to misrepresent his views.

Whelan concludes that “It would thus seem that…the ABA…is unable to distinguish between its role as advocate and its role as adjudicator of the merits of judicial nominees.”

As we learned more about the evaluation process, it is clear that the ABA uses its power as a reviewer of judicial nominees as a way to support its partisan agenda, instead of making a determination on the merits of judicial temperament.

During Steve’s confirmation hearing last week my colleagues on the Judiciary asked good questions that brought new details to light.

That’s how we discovered Steve was asked a number of inappropriate, leading questions during his ABA evaluation.

These questions had no relevancy towards his ability to serve our nation as a judge. He was asked for his personal opinion on social issues, including abortion, and later questioned about where his children went to school.

And in response to a line of questions from the junior Senator from Arizona, Steve explained that his ABA evaluator continued to use the term “you people” during the interview. When Steve finally asked what he meant by “you people,” the evaluator told him he meant “conservatives and Republicans.”

Steve also told the committee, quote “at least a half hour of that time was devoted to discussing a white paper that I had written on the judicial selection process for state judges in Nebraska. There was one paragraph in that rather lengthy article [where] I had criticized the oversized involvement of the American Bar Association in that process, and I had mentioned some of their political activities including their role in the debate over abortion rights as well as Second Amendment rights of individuals.”

He continued: “It seemed to be a topic of great concern to the interviewer.”

These tactics used by the ABA are not right. They show contempt for ideas that do not fit the interviewer’s personal beliefs and in no way portray an attempt to carefully consider whether or not Steve Grasz is capable of being a fair judge.

This wasn’t an evaluation.

It was a partisan, shameful attack.

It was intended to further the political agenda of the two evaluators and damage Steve’s sterling legal reputation.

In the days since the biased ABA rating was released, Nebraskans have spoken out, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

In letters, online, on Facebook, and in the pages of our state’s newspapers, our citizens have come to Steve’s defense.

Richard G. Kopf (Kahpf), a senior U.S. district judge for Nebraska, said he was “stunned” reading the ABA assessment of Steve.

The ABA interviewed Judge Kopf about Steve, and although he did not know Steve personally, on two occasions he told the evaluator he believed Steve was “well qualified.”

Judge Kopf wrote in the Omaha World-Herald: “One can only speculate, and my speculation was that Mr. Grasz, who is by all accounts a brilliant and honorable person, would do his best. I certainly have and had no evidence to the contrary…I respectfully suggest that the committee got it wrong when it gave Mr. Grasz a ‘not qualified’ rating.”

Additionally, President of the Nebraska State Bar Association, Timothy Engler, quickly responded to the evaluation by noting that the Nebraska State Bar Association did not participate in the report or the ABA’s grade.

Mr. Engler also noted his own personal view that he always found Steve “to be professional, civil, and ethical in all respects” and that Grasz “would have no questions regarding his judicial temperament as a member of the Judiciary.”

M. President, we received numerous letters of recommendation on Steve’s behalf. Nebraskans from across the political spectrum have pointed to Steve’s thoughtfulness, fair-mindedness, high ethical standards, and brilliant abilities as a jurist.

The respect and admiration for Steve is also bipartisan.

This includes former Democratic Governor and U.S. Senator Ben Nelson, who wrote that Steve “was an asset to our state and Nebraskans benefitted from having such a capable and thoughtful professional in public service. Today, he is unquestionably one of the foremost appellate lawyers in the state, making him an obvious choice for this seat on our federal appeals court.”

Deborah Gilg, the former U.S. Attorney for Nebraska and a Democrat appointed by President Obama, also wrote that “Steve has always enjoyed a reputation for honesty, impeccable integrity, and dedication to the rule of law. He possesses an even temperament well-suited for the bench and always acts with respect to all that interact with him.”

Those who have known Steve his entire life have vouched for him. For example, Bill Lydiatt (Lid-ee-et), of Bellevue, Nebraska, wrote a letter to the editor to the Omaha World-Herald, stating, “As a classmate of Grasz’s in Chappell, Nebraska, from kindergarten through high school and as a lifelong friend, I can personally vouch” that Steve holds all of the attributes to be a successful judge.

Furthermore, pointing to his integrity and fairness, Lydiatt concluded: “I don’t share all his political views, but I can say without any hesitation that Steve Grasz is exactly the kind of person we need as a judge and is perfectly suited to the high honor of joining the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.”

In Nebraska, the truth holds more value than partisanship.

M. President, everyone serving in this chamber swears an oath to “support and defend the Constitution.” One of the ways we do that is by confirming judges who we know will faithfully honor that pledge while serving our federal court system.

The Constitution states that we in the Senate, not the American Bar Association, are to advise and consent when it comes to judges. We have a duty to do so thoroughly, without bias, and through the use of all of the information available to us.

Both the junior senator from Nebraska and I trust Steve Grasz to support and defend the Constitution.

So do those who know him the best: the people of Nebraska who have worked with him for nearly three decades.

The Senate should, as well.

I urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to advance his nomination. The American people deserve to have talented and fair lawyers like Steve Grasz on the federal bench.

I yield the floor.