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Brady Opposes Nomination of Lawrence VanDyke to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

November 20, 2019

The Honorable Lindsey Graham
Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
290 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Graham and Ranking Member Feinstein,

We write to strongly urge you to oppose the nomination of Lawrence VanDyke to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Brady is one of America’s oldest gun violence prevention organizations. Founded in 1974, Brady works across Congress, the courts, and communities, uniting gun owners and non-gun owners alike to take action, not sides, and end America’s gun violence epidemic. Our organization carries the name of former White House press secretary Jim Brady, who was shot and severely injured in the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. Jim and his wife, Sarah, led the fight to pass federal legislation requiring background checks for gun sales.

Brady rarely makes recommendations to the Committee on judicial nominations; however, Mr. VanDyke’s extreme and biased public statements related to gun violence prevention legislation, as well as his fervent commitment to groups that oppose common-sense restrictions on access to firearms, compel us to do so now.

The nominee before you has made his dangerous and uncompromising views on proposed responses to our nation’s gun violence epidemic very clear. Should Mr. VanDyke be appointed as a judge, it would be impossible for the American people to trust that he could rule fairly or impartially on gun violence prevention legislation that may very well be heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In fact, he has publicly opposed common-sense gun violence prevention policies that are proven to save lives and that the majority of Americans support. Mr. VanDyke has publicly stated that basic measures to prevent dangerous individuals from obtaining firearms are “misdirected.” Further, he has made public his opposition to any additional legislation or regulations on ammunition or firearms, restrictions on access to high-capacity magazines, or legislation that expands the background check system to cover private transfers or commercial sales of firearms.[1] We urge this committee to note that these measures are not abstract or hypothetical, but are actively under consideration in both houses of Congress. When these measures become law, the public should have confidence they will be read fairly and impartially before the courts.

The nominee also has a troubling connection to the National Rifle Association (NRA), an organization that expends significant resources lobbying to prevent the states and the federal government from addressing the nation’s gun violence epidemic, which further undermines his ability to rule impartially. A questionnaire Mr. VanDyke submitted to the NRA when seeking the organization’s endorsement for his campaign to the Montana Supreme Court offers an illustration of these concerns. In this questionnaire, Mr. VanDyke proudly shared that he had allowed his NRA membership to lapse because he “[didn’t] want to risk recusal if a lawsuit came before [him] where the NRA was involved.”[3]

While we strongly believe that the nominee’s ties and stated positions are sufficient on their own to disqualify him from appointment to this position, Mr. VanDyke’s demonstrated inability to untangle his own political views from his public service obligations should certainly cause the committee even greater concern. Specifically, as Solicitor General of Montana, VanDyke worked diligently to impose his extreme views upon other states, and according to his own account, was “instrumental” in filing several briefs on behalf of Montana in favor of striking down gun safety laws in New York and Connecticut.[4] His radical beliefs were further on display during his vigorous attempt to defend the Firearms Freedom Act,[5] where he egregiously argued that federal law should not apply to firearms and ammunition manufactured in Montana, despite the clear authority of the federal government provided by the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. Finally, as Solicitor General of Nevada, Mr. VanDyke played an active role in preventing the implementation of a voter initiative to expand background checks in the state, further demonstrating his willingness to use his public position to thwart the will of the public in responding to gun violence.[6]

Based on the nominee’s professional history, the American people have no choice but to believe Mr. VanDyke will use his seat on the bench to bend the law to fit his personal political views. For the foregoing reasons, we urge this committee to oppose Lawrence VanDyke’s nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Sincerely,

Kris Brown
President
Brady


[1] VanDyke Responses to NRA’s 2014 Candidate Questionnaire (NRA Candidate Questionnaire)

[2] Emails via Great Falls Tribune Records Request. “John Adams Records Request – Sept. 2014” at p. 81 and 416

[3] Id. NRA Candidate Questionnaire

[4] Id. NRA Candidate Questionnaire

[5] Mont. Code Ann. § 30-20-101 et seq.

[6] Soni Brown and Riley Snyder, “Lawyers Debate Legality of Background Check Initiative in Court,” Nevada Independent (Feb. 24, 2018), https://thenevadaindependent.com/article/lawyers-debate-legality-of-background-check-initiative

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Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.


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