WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), on Tuesday delivered remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate in opposition to Lawrence VanDyke, nominee for U.S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit. During his remarks, Murphy called out VanDyke’s history of opposing common sense gun laws and cozying up to the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Murphy said: “I do not believe that Mr. VanDyke is within the mainstream when it comes to his positions on the issue of gun violence.”
“As Solicitor General of Montana, he argued that the federal government should not have the power to regulate gun ownership in his state of Montana. Now, this is a political cause that is picking up steam in some conservative circles around the country, but it is still a radical notion,” Murphy continued.
“I come to the floor to just point out a handful of ways in which Mr. VanDyke’s record, I believe, is outside of the conservative mainstream when it comes to guns. I think he holds positions that would make even NRA endorsed Republicans in this body a little uncomfortable, especially this idea that states can nullify federal firearms laws,” Murphy continued.
Murphy concluded: “This is someone who's going to bring some pretty radical ideas on what the Constitution allows states to do, and what the Constitution allows this body to do when it comes to keeping our constituents safe.”
VanDyke’s nomination is opposed by six former Montana Supreme Court Justices and more than 200 outside groups including the Alliance for Justice; Coalition to Stop Gun Violence; Giffords Law Center; Lambda Legal and 24 Advocacy Organizations; League of Conservation Voters; NARAL; Human Rights Campaign and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights – which is coalition of more than 200 national organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, AFL-CIO; NAACP; National Education Association; People for the American Way, and National Council of Jewish Women.
In November, Murphy demanded the U.S. Senate bring up a vote on the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (H.R.8) just as reports surfaced of a school shooting in California. Senate Republicans objected to the unanimous consent request.
A full transcript of Murphy’s remarks can be found below:
“Thank you very much, Mr. President. Mr. President, I am here to join my colleague from Connecticut, Senator Blumenthal and others, in urging my colleagues to oppose the nomination of Lawrence VanDyke. And I may risk repeating some of the ground covered by Senator Blumenthal, but I think it's important enough that we reiterate over and over the dangerous nature of this particular nomination.
“I have come down to speak on the floor in opposition to maybe only a handful of the president's judicial nominees. And in fact, if you look up the voting record, I probably am amongst a very small handful of Democrats that have routinely voted for the president's nominees. Not just judicial nominees, but also his appointments to positions in his administration. Often in committee, I'm the only Democrat supporting some of the president's nominees and appointments. And that's because I've come to the conclusion that this body should give deference to the administration and to the president, when it comes particularly to filling out those that work for him in political appointments, but to a degree, as well in the judiciary. And so, I've put my votes where my test is, and probably with only two or three exceptions of the Democratic Caucus, I voted for more of the president's nominees than the rest of my colleagues on this side of the aisle.
“My test is pretty simple: One, I want individuals who are qualified, and obviously, qualifications are sometimes in the eye of the beholder. But I want folks who know something about the job that they're about to undertake or have some set of skills that will be relevant. And second, I want to make sure that the candidates that we are reviewing for judgeships or for administration posts are not out of the mainstream. And I mean, the conservative mainstream. I don't want folks who have radical points of view.
“Mr. VanDyke doesn't pass that test, as far as I'm concerned. And that's why I chose to come down to the floor and express my opposition to his nomination. And in particular, I do not believe that Mr. VanDyke is within the mainstream when it comes to his positions on the issue of gun violence.
“Obviously, this is a personal issue, not just to me but to everybody in this chamber. And we have a lot of disagreement, maybe a narrowing set of disagreements, on the policy surrounding what we should do to better protect this country against the growing scourge of gun violence. But Mr. VanDyke has held a position that would take away from this body the ability to keep our friends and our neighbors and our constituents safe. Mr. VanDyke’s record, as a candidate for the Supreme Court and as a solicitor general, was to endorse views outside of the mainstream, that would take away from us the ability to pass laws to keep people safe.
“Let me tell you what I'm talking about. First and foremost, he was a vocal proponent of something called the Firearms Freedom Act. As Solicitor General of Montana, he argued that the federal government should not have the power to regulate gun ownership in his state of Montana. Now, this is a political cause that is picking up steam in some conservative circles around the country, but it is still a radical notion. The idea that Congress can pass a law restricting who can own a gun or what kind of guns can be owned and then a state can just claim that those laws are not valid in their state. That's what Montana was attempting to do and that's what Mr. VanDyke was pushing. The idea that that state was just going to conveniently avoid enforcing Federal Firearms Act and laws.
“Now, that position is unconstitutional and federal courts have held that it is unconstitutional, but it didn't stop Mr. VanDyke from pushing what is essentially a political cause. The idea that one of the ways to stymie federal action on guns is to just convince states to pass laws saying that they won't enforce federal laws. That's a really slippery slope to go down, certainly on the issue of enforcement of firearms laws, but it's a slippery slope to go down with respect to any federal laws that states may want to ignore or invalidate.
“Second, Mr. VanDyke has taken a position of posing the constitutionality of restrictions on the sales of certain types of weapons. We have big disagreements here as to what kind of weapons should be sold commercially and which kind of weapons should be reserved for law enforcement and the military. I believe that these semi-automatic assault style weapons like the AR-15, they are best left in the hands of those they were designed for: soldiers, law enforcement. Many of my Republican colleagues don't agree. But that should be a debate that we have here. And I simply do not believe that our founding fathers would accept the premise that the constitution restricts our ability to decide what kind of weapons should be in civilian hands, and what kind of weapons should be in the hands of the military.
“There was all sorts of gun regulation happening at the time of the passage of the United States Constitution. They were not unfamiliar with the idea that government was going to have a hand to play in regulating firearms. And I reject the idea that the Constitution bars us from having those debates. Mr. VanDyke has spent a lot of time arguing that the Constitution prohibits Congress from acting to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of civilians. It's one thing to have a policy objection, it's another thing to put somebody into the federal court system that doesn't think that we should have ownership as a political body of a question which is inherently political, not constitutional.
“And so, I come to the floor to just point out a handful of ways in which Mr. VanDyke’s record, I believe, is outside of the conservative mainstream when it comes to guns. I think he holds positions that would make even NRA-endorsed Republicans in this body a little uncomfortable, especially this idea that states can nullify federal firearms laws. And so, though there are many reasons, I think, to draw an issue with this particular nominee, I put this set of issues at the top of the list.
“And, again, this is coming from someone who has spent a lot of time supporting the president's nominees, with whom I have big policy disagreements. This is, I think, beyond a question of policy disagreements. This is someone who's going to bring some pretty radical ideas on what the constitution allows states to do, and what the constitution allows this body to do when it comes to keeping our constituents safe. I would urge us to oppose Lawrence VanDyke’s nomination and I would yield the floor.”