Trump nominates a creationist as a Ninth Circuit appellate judge

September 26, 2019 • 9:00 am

The Ninth Circuit comprises the following “judicial districts” in the western U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii; it is only one step below the Supreme Court in its power, and the Circuit’s inclusion of California makes its decisions especially important.

Brian Leiter, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, reported that Trump appointed nominated former Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke as a justice to this court, a nomination pronounced by the Las Vegas Review-Journal as a “stellar choice.”

Well it isn’t. Regardless of his legal views, Leiter reports that VanDyke is a creationist, and, as noted on Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports, an unrepentant and obdurate creationist:

As a student at Harvard Law School fifteen years ago, Lawrence VanDyke (Trump’s nominee) published an incompetent apologia for Intelligent Design creationism, under the guise of a “review” of a book shilling for creationism, in the Harvard Law Review.  I excoriated it on my philosophy blog, while further efforts by Mr. VanDyke to defend himself only resulted in his digging his hole deeper.

Of course, an intellectually disgraceful book review fifteen years ago shouldn’t be disqualifying, but surely Senators will want to find out if Mr. VanDyke is still a shill for creationism and how that might effect his rulings.

You can follow the links (some of them don’t work) to see VanDyke’s approbation of Intelligent-Design creationism , but it appears that VanDyke, who wrote a note favoring ID for the Harvard Law Review (???), has dug in, hardening his criticisms of evolutionary theory after Leiter went after him.  Granted, VanDyke’s initial publication was in 2004, but it’s still worrisome that nominated Federal judges can be creationists.

Indeed, unlike Leiter, I think that adherence to creationism or its gussied-up twin Intelligent Design creationism, should be disqualifying for a judge. After all, what if a judge said he didn’t believe in gravity, or bacteria? Wouldn’t that count as strong evidence about his ability to adjudicate evidence? And it’s not a certainty that more court cases about the teaching of creationism could arise. (Sometimes I quail when I think of the U.S. Supreme Court revisiting them, just as it may revisit Roe v. Wade.)

Yes, I hope the Senators responsible for VanDyke’s confirmation ask him about his creationism. In fact, this question should be asked of Trump as well (I have no idea what he’d say, but it’s guaranteed to be gibberish), as well of all the Democratic Presidential candidates (I suspect they all adhere to established science).

Acceptance of evolution is a touchstone of rationality in modern society, as is accepting the safety and efficacy of vaccinations, and since these are both matters that have been of legal interest, they’re fair game.

VanDyke (center). Photo: Lido Vizzutti, AP

h/t: Greg Mayer

52 thoughts on “Trump nominates a creationist as a Ninth Circuit appellate judge

    1. I recall during the 2008 Republican presidential debate the hands going up when the candidates were asked if they rejected evolution:

      1. McCain’s answer was very politically correct. You have to include God so you don’t lose the other half of the country.

        1. Yeah, McCain had to toss in the God addendum to remain politically viable in the GOP.

          Three three on stage who simply raised their hands, OTOH, are ignoramuses undisguised.

  1. This is disgusting actually. But.

    I will wager that this type of person sits
    in judgments of me and of so, so very many
    other mothers. And has. Over beaucoup
    decades. Already.

    This is Gilead – like with its Sons of Jacob.

    These men, what they with their “powers”
    within this “democratic” government can do
    to you, should be feared by all.
    By both women and men.

    And further: NOT for one minute do I believe
    that THEY believe this manure. They USE this
    creationist muck. TO further their control.

    I have seen this first fuckin’hand.

    Since y1988, in tiny county and biggy state
    appellate courtrooms across the Midwest.
    These men mean nothing of what they sing
    from their pews. They mean everything of it
    that they write IN TO their adjudicating
    decisions. That BECOMES NOW … … upon me
    and upon you … … The Law.


  2. Does not surprise me one bit but then, I am sure nearly all the republicans in the Senate are also creationist or will be for the vote on this guy. They have bent over permanently for this president and apparently will remain so for as long as he is in office. Considering the judgments coming out of the supreme we must have a few creationist in there as well. Anti abortion is a pretty strong belief by all creationists that I have come across.

    1. You’re quite right. I find it hard to doubt that many, if not most, of Trump’s judicial appointments are creationists, but just not as obvious as VanDyke. After all, the Republican Party’s base is right-wing religion. Long after Trump is gone, the judiciary will remain the last bastion of extreme conservatism, in religion and many other areas. This will create a severe tension between moderate to liberal society and the dwindling right wing. Social disruptions will become more prevalent as people become frustrated with a judiciary blocking the creation of a society that they want.

  3. Uh-oh, looks like he isn’t even a judge. How can someone jump from attorney straight into appellate judgeship without State or District judicial experience? Hope this time the senators ask whether the candidate believes in a woman’s right to choose and doctor/patient privacy rather than whether Roe v Wade is “settled law” – haven’t yet seen any of them give an honest answer to that question.

    1. The don’t want to establish a theocracy. They want to establish a perpetual rule by themselves. They only really care about |Christianity in the sense that it provides them with a tool for controlling the masses.

        1. As the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger put it, “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”

          1. Good old Lucius Annaeus! Wish we had more thinkers like him these days…
            How backward the present crop of reactionaries is compared to thinkers like Seneca and Lucretius (I’ve heard it attributed to Lucretius too).

      1. I will readily agree that many politicians are Harper Valley Hypocrites and use Christianity as a tool for gaining power. But as noted elsewhere here, the Netflix documentary on The Family shows the pervasive influence at the highest levels of “true believers.”

    1. That society may be the ones picking them but they are not the ones voting. That society is only as powerful as the party that uses them.

  4. This documentarian and executive producer,
    Mr Sharlett, is coming to speak at next
    month’s Freedom From Religion Foundation’s
    convention, Madison:

    “A best-selling author whose expose of ===
    === ! a secretive megapowerful Christian
    fundamentalist group ! === === is now a
    Netflix series has been added as a speaker
    at the Freedom From Religion Foundation convention.

    Jeff Sharlet, whose The Family: The Secret
    Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
    laid bare the workings of the titular
    organization, will be addressing the
    FFRF audience Saturday, Oct. 19, morning
    during the convention. His classic work
    has recently been transformed into a much-
    acclaimed Netflix mini-series, which he has
    executive produced. ”

    Fucking Frightening === === The Family.


    1. I watched Sharlet’s documentary series on “The Family.” I’d heard of The Family before but didn’t know much. It is indeed scary. Disgusting too. Not just the commentary by Sharlet the accuracy of which should be verified before accepting it, but the bare facts, pictures and video clips that speak for themselves about the people in powerful positions in our government and the people who influence them.

      Disgusting. The self-serving piety and how so many people accept it as sincere and admirable thus allowing it to be used as cover for and to legitimize grossly unethical actions. Made me want to break things. Religion, the WMD of choice for power seekers for thousands of years, poisons everything, always has, always will.

      1. What a loss his premature death was. Nearly 8 years now, hard to believe it is that long already. How much we miss this man!
        Our only consolation is that he was spared the Trump presidency (although he might have reveled in ‘destroying’ it).

        1. This is of course Hitch hammering nail after nail into what in a sane world would be the coffin of he Catholic Church. “For shame, if you can feel it…”

          1. I N D E E D in re
            “ For shame, if you can feel it… ” !

            I viewed this several times actually.

            Around about the midst of the second time ?
            AS Mr Hitchens was calmly speaking and
            uttering the truths about religions utter muck, why
            I began to notice the expressionless faces of
            the rest of the audience and of the other panelists.

            Oooo, one from OUT of these religionists could just
            plainly SEE upon their mugs their gargantuan
            loathing of
            our man.

            Some little clapping, yes; but overall,
            sheer silent anger AT him / his words.


            1. I watched it several times too. It’s from an “Intelligence Squared” debate, Hithc & Steven Frye vs the loathsome Ann Widdecomb and some creepy bishop. Widdecomb recently advocated anti-gay therapy.

  5. It’s hard to overstate the extent that the Trump/McConnell/Federalist Society cabal is packing the federal courts. To date, they have confirmed 43 Appeals Court judges (24% of the total) with 8 more pending, and 105 District Court judges, with 40+ pending. And, of course, there are his two stellar choices to the Supreme Court. It goes without saying that these picks are uniformly ultraconservative, anti-abortion, etc., etc.

    A typical example of their choices would be Mark Norris, who, before he was confirmed for the District Court in Tennessee was the majority leader of the Republican-controlled Tennessee State Senate, where he was hostile to voting rights, abortion, gay rights, and evolution. He favors teaching creationism in classrooms, but not climate science.

    Before Trump it was rare to nominate judges whose only experience was partisan politics. Under Trump it’s becoming a requirement.

  6. We have many topics of pressing concern that require scientific and technological know-how. Using creationism (or climate change denial, or antivacccination, etc.) as a indicator for scientific literacy is a good one.

  7. It is truly staggering just how awful a President and person DJT is. I knew when he won in 2016 he’d be terrible (not the right temperament to say the least) but the harm he has/will cause is of magnitudes worse than I thought possible. I had no idea how weak our 240 year-old experiment really was; when accountability and ethics are thrown by the wayside, there is not much standing in the way of blatant corruption. And it’s even more staggering that millions of Americans think Trump’s the second coming and believe everything he spews. America is a lost country, there can be no doubt about that. Hopefully the Democrats can provide clarity in the months to come (though I have no reason to believe Dems can provide clarity for members of Cult 45). And I don’t know what they can do about life-time appointed delusional partisan-judges.

    1. The fact that the Republican Party has become the mouthpiece of the Trump cult provides a case study of how fragile democracy is. Republican politicians want to keep power at all costs. For them and the cult as a whole, democracy is not important. Current events remind me of how the Weimar Republic collapsed in 1932 and how a fascist dictatorship changed Germany in a very short time. American democracy is much stronger than the German experience, so perhaps it will survive. But, it can never be taken for granted.

  8. Weird isn’t it — if Trump were to become a creationist it would be one of the greatest intellectual achievements of his life. For him it would be the intellectual equivalent of a double somersault from a standing position while juggling an entire dinner service.

  9. I walked past a full length mirror this morning. I thought to myself: “Surely an Intelligent Designer could have come up with something better than this?”

  10. According to Gallup, 40% of Americans believe in creationism. To deny the right of that many Americans to be judges would be absurd.

    Creationism is not acceptable in the sciences but it has virtually nothing to do with any other jobs including law. I know some very good engineers who happen to be creationist. They are by and large good people and I am happy to work them. They have a huge blind spot but that does not mean that their electrical boards and programs are not first rate.

    Since Trump appointed him, I doubt he will be a good judge but his creationism has nothing to do with that.

    1. “40% of Americans believe in creationism. To deny the right of that many Americans to be judges would be absurd.”

      That statement is a complete non sequitur. If the only decisions they ever had to make were on religious questions, it might have some validity. But the argument is that, by believing in Creationism, they have shown themselves subject to non-evidence-based thinking, just as much as if they believed in astrology of jade vagina eggs.

      The further – and greater – concern is that they will also have strong religiously-based anti-abortion leanings which will deny the right of 50% of Americans to control their own bodies. (The other 50% don’t get pregnant).

      “I know some very good engineers who happen to be creationist.” Much engineering consists of “Follow the Code of Practice”. So long as you do that, the results will be safe and predictable and can be assumed by other engineers to be in compliance with the code. The Code will have been very carefully written with that aim in mind. The resulting construction may also be rather conservative and inefficient but in most cases that doesn’t matter too much. But you can see how a Creationist would fit right in to that milieu. Not a lot of critical thinking is required.


      1. Urgh. ‘… astrology OR jade vagina eggs.’ I think I just created a sales opportunity for Gwyneth – a different jade egg for each astrological season. Don’t be caught wearing a Virgo egg when it’s Leo.

        I should also add – as an engineer – that cases arise when original innovative thinking is required. The best engineers do that (and write the codes). But 99% is bread-and-butter stuff.


      2. I try very hard to treat people I disagree with as if they are complete human beings with flaws and strengths. I have held some irrational beliefs during my lifetime and some surely remain.

        You appear, correct me if I am wrong, to think that only people with certain views are competent to hold public office (creationism, global warming, abortion, etc.) . If this is accurate, I imagine you would eliminate the majority of people. I find this disturbing. I welcome rational, decent people with views that I disagree with. The government should represent the views of all people. I live in a one party state and, even though I am registered in that party, I do not care for the unquestioning servitude to the party and the contempt they so for others. Diversity of thought is good.

        Most of judging is following the law and precedence and, so long as you do that, the results will be safe and predictable and can be assumed by other judges to be in compliance with the legal code.

        1. I, too Mr Curtis, try to be kind to All.
          Within my actions and by my comments.

          However, in USA’s and in World matters of law,
          I must vehemently disagree with your take on judges / on A N Y, let alone, upon ALL of them providing “safe and predictable” “results” following “precedent” in “the Law.”

          Simply ? This is soooo NOT true. At all.

          In one matter over seven years’ time and out of 23 of 25 judges involved over all of those years and in $79,000.00 spent by just the one litigant and in re to just .one. mama al ready decades ago in the 1980s and 1990s, thus:

          This ? This one matter ? Child(ren) custody. USA / Worldwide ?

          Abuse from the judges. Occurs 75% to 85% of
          the time — — with almost ALL of that abuse
          seen INSIDE these judges’ decisions AS EXCUSED
          BECAUSE, like Gilead’s Sons of Jacob’s men,
          these abusers DESERVE to have for THEMSELVES
          the “products” of THEIR sperm.

          This THINKING and ACTING by judges ?


          1. It is a red flag any time
            a father seeks 100% sole
            physical custody from a mother.

            Family courts in general ignore abuse
            allegations from women. Not just from the
            mothers themselves but from women: doctors,
            nurses, teachers, social workers.

            ” But there are laws !”
            one may try to counter me.

            That does NOT count: the patriarchy and
            androcentrism of ( ALL ) religions … …, instead,
            R U L E S.

            Try it. Try being a woman, as litigant, inside
            either a criminal or a civil courtroom.
            And coming, in finality, away with anything
            resembling … … j u s t i c e.

            Paraphrasing Ms Thunberg, ” I dare you. ”


        2. Curtis, I was articulating what I think to be the general opinion of this forum, that Creationism is an indicator of non-rational thinking (just as a belief in astrology would be) and therefore is not an asset for a judge. We would not regard such beliefs as evidence of rationality. Second, that religious people seem to have no trouble imposing religiously-inspired dogma on the legal rights of all, non-believers included, and that is particularly threatening in such sensitive social areas as abortion, contraception, marriage etc. The ideal judge should be impartial, not wedded to a particular religion or philosophy.

          To turn your argument back on you, 50% of Americans are of below-average intelligence; should not 50% of judges therefore be selected for below-average intelligence?


Leave a Reply