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John L. Smith: Dems Worry Over Court Appointee's Background

(AP Photo/Lido Vizzutti, File)

In this Sept. 23, 2014, file photo, former Montana Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke, center, talks with law students Jason Collins, left, and Tyler Dugger before a Montana Supreme Court candidate forum at the University of Montana in Missoula, Mont.

Lawrence VanDyke is President Donald Trump's pick for a seat on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Conservatives love it; Democrats? Not so much.

The Ninth Circuit is considered one of the most liberal appeals courts in the country. It hears cases from nine Western states, including Nevada, and two Pacific Island jurisdictions.

Why is VanDyke a worry to Democrats?

State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith has been looking into it.

“I think he is probably President Donald Trump’s dream come true. Lawrence VanDyke is a guy who has experience. He has a belief system that reflects the espoused views of the president. He has the kind of background that really is an ideal choice for a president that is trying to pack court systems across the country and really remake them in real-time,” Smith said.

VanDyke is from Montana and worked as the solicitor general for Nevada, under former Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

He graduated from Harvard Law School and worked at the Harvard Law Review, which is a background that Smith noted "sparkles."

“However, he also has views and has stated opinions that run contrary to what some Democrats are calling mainstream beliefs,” Smith said.

Some of those views include writings that espouse creationism being part of school textbooks, strong opinions on local control of public lands and a stint with a non-profit that critics have called anti-LGBTQ.

“There are things that a lot of folks would say, Democrats especially, that put him out of the mainstream. However, you are also talking about a guy with a lot of credentials,” Smith said.

After Laxalt lost his bid for governor last year, VanDyke quickly got a job in the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division.

“He’s a dream come true for the folks who look at the federal public lands and essentially want to privatize them or turn them over to local control,” Smith said.

If VanDyke is appointed to the court, he would not be the only conservative taking a seat at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Smith noted.

“A lot of people have relied on the 9 th Circuit for a progressive view of the law. And clearly, the president is trying to make some changes,” he said.

Storm Area 51

“Clearly, this was probably pretty underwhelming for some people,” Smith said of the events this past weekend that started as a joke on Facebook inviting people to storm the top-secret military base but turned into an alien-centric festival in rural Nevada.

After months of hype, about 3,000 people showed up to Rachel and Hiko for the events. Smith was among the people there. He talked to local business owners who did get a boost, all be it a small one.

One of the noticeable parts of the event was law enforcement, Smith said. 

“People were trying to - I think - folks in officialdom, administration, they were really trying to react in a positive way. They were trying to make sure no one got hurt or killed and that it went off as quickly planned as it was.”

Nobody saw ET but they did see OT for the NHP, Smith quipped.

“It's possible that everyone who was part of the process is going to have a letter in the mail coming and a bill because in going through that area the turnout of people trying to make sure that things didn’t go sideways… there were quite a few ambulances, there was firefighting equipment and many, many NHP vehicles. So there is going to be a bill.”

Smith said if better planned next year the event might grow into something more. 

“You got your money’s worth for weird, that’s for sure,” he said.


John L. Smith, contributor, State of Nevada

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.