November 5, 2017
by Senators Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse
The writers are Nebraska’s U.S. senators. Sasse is a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Nebraska has an impressive legal community. With more than 5,700 lawyers, our state touts a lengthy and impressive list of those who have demonstrated an unwavering dedication to the rule of law.
During our search for a candidate to fill the seat of Chief Judge William Jay Riley on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, however, one name stood out.
President Donald Trump accepted our recommendation and nominated Steve for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in August. Like us and so many other Nebraskans across our great state, the president recognized Steve’s temperament, intellect and skill as valuable attributes for the federal bench.
Steve learned the value of hard work while growing up on his family farm in the Nebraska Panhandle. That experience laid a strong foundation for him. He went on to excel in his education and build a distinguished legal career practicing appellate litigation.
For 12 years, Steve served Nebraska with dedication. In his role as the chief deputy attorney general, he passionately defended our citizens and upheld the laws of our state.
The respect Nebraskans hold for Steve is widespread and bipartisan.
Former Nebraska Gov. and U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, wrote of Steve:
“(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.”
Furthermore, Deborah Gilg, the former U.S. attorney for Nebraska appointed by President Barack Obama, echoed those sentiments, stating that Steve had a reputation for being honest and fair, with a dedication to the rule of law.
Despite the strong support for Steve from across the aisle, there is a targeted effort by some outside Nebraska to tarnish Steve’s reputation.
Hoping to drive a political agenda, the American Bar Association rated Steve as “not qualified” to serve on the federal circuit court. We were shocked by its assessment, given Steve’s considerable legal experience. But our examinations of the ABA report revealed intense bias and an evaluation based on limited facts.
The two evaluators who performed this ABA analysis discounted Steve for his association with political organizations, an action integral to our democracy. This charge is absurd because the ones lobbing the attack have engaged in political participation themselves.
The first evaluator, an Arkansas law professor named Cynthia Nance, was given multiple awards from affiliates of the Democratic Party of Arkansas. The second, Laurence Pulgram, has worked as a liberal activist and donated thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party.
These revelations weaken the ABA’s argument that Steve Grasz is unqualified for his nominated position. A review of the evaluation shows a report long on anonymous sources and short on substantiated evidence.
The president of the Nebraska State Bar Association, Timothy Engler, quickly responded to the evaluation by noting that his organization did not participate in the report or the ABA’s grade. What’s more, Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and one of the nation’s foremost experts on judicial appointments, called the ABA evaluation “feeble beyond the point of incompetence” because it “selectively quotes” portions of an article written by Grasz, misrepresenting his views.
Bias should not cloud how we evaluate judicial nominees. We were proud to defend Steve’s excellent credentials, character and commitment to the rule of law during his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and we will confidently continue to do so throughout his confirmation process.
The American people deserve to have Steve Grasz on the 8th Circuit Court. Any efforts to misconstrue him as unfit for this judgeship are politically charged, dishonest and unwarranted. That’s not the Nebraska way, and that’s not how we should be determining who sits on the federal bench.