After Senate panel’s vote, Omaha attorney Steve Grasz’s path to seat on 8th Circuit Court looks clear

December 8, 2017 GMT

WASHINGTON — Omaha attorney Steve Grasz’s path to the federal bench looks clear.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 along party lines Thursday to advance Grasz’s nomination to join the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

He still must be confirmed by the full Senate, but that appears likely. A procedural vote is scheduled for Monday evening.

In supporting Grasz, Republicans on the committee dismissed the American Bar Association’s “not qualified” rating of Grasz — a rating they view as the product of liberal bias within the organization.

“The ABA’s not qualified rating of Mr. Grasz appears nothing more than a hit job on an exceptionally well-qualified nominee, simply because the nominee is pro-life and conservative,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee chairman, said before the vote.

Democrats on the committee complained generally about President Donald Trump’s judicial nominations and the fast pace of approvals.

On Grasz, they pointed to the bar association’s poor rating of him based on confidential interviews with his Nebraska colleagues. They indicated concerns over whether he could set aside his conservative ideology and rule impartially.

The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, noted that the bar association rating of Grasz was unanimous, which is rare. There was one abstention.

She said his record in Nebraska, including his time as the state’s deputy attorney general, fuels concerns about his impartiality. A specific example she cited was an advisory opinion he wrote that referred to “the moral bankruptcy which is the legacy of Roe v. Wade.”

“Based on these factors, I share the concerns that Mr. Grasz will be unable to detach himself from his deeply held social agenda and political loyalty,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein also referred to a 2015 complaint Grasz filed accusing Vince Powers of improperly undermining an applicant for a Nebraska Supreme Court vacancy.

Powers, who has denied the accusations, was then chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party and a member of the commission reviewing applicants for the vacancy.

The ABA previously suggested that Grasz used confidential material in that complaint, an action that would be contrary to Nebraska law.

In supplemental letters released Thursday, the ABA said that Grasz’s actions were injudicious but that it had not concluded they were illegal. Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson has said Grasz did not break the law.

Grasz has said his filing of the complaint was an attempt to rectify what he saw as an improper political manipulation.

The committee’s approval of Grasz was welcomed by Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse, both Nebraska Republicans, who jointly recommended Grasz for the position. They have criticized the ABA and defended Grasz throughout the confirmation process.

Sasse, a member of the Judiciary Committee, praised Grasz during a Senate floor speech following Thursday’s vote.

Sasse noted that Grasz has the backing of Democrats such as Deb Gilg, who served as U.S. attorney for Nebraska under President Barack Obama.

“I hope that when his nomination comes to the floor of the Senate, we will take to heart all of the support that he has across the political spectrum and from well-respected lawyers across our state,” Sasse said.

Fischer also praised Grasz’s ethics, credentials and bipartisan support.

“I hope Steve’s nomination will swiftly move to the Senate floor for a final vote so he can put his skills to work for the American people.”

joe.morton@owh.com, twitter.com/MortonOWH