Republicans defend Trump court pick rated 'not qualified'
Leonard Steven Grasz

Senate Republicans mounted a concerted defense of one of President Donald Trump's nominees to a federal appeals court on Wednesday, suggesting a nonpartisan lawyers' group rating of Leonard Steven Grasz as "not qualified" for the bench was biased.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Grasz's nomination, the Republicans universally praised the Nebraska lawyer, whom Trump wants to fill a vacancy on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

Negative assessments by the American Bar Association, which has been evaluating federal court picks for decades, are rare. It last gave an appeals court nominee a rating of "not qualified" in 2006. That nominee was withdrawn.

The ABA's 15-member standing committee on the federal judiciary voted unanimously on the poor rating for Grasz, with one member abstaining.

The report focused largely on Grasz's advocacy on conservative social issues, including his opposition to abortion rights.

"Many questioned whether Mr. Grasz would be able to detach himself from his deeply held social agenda," Pamela Bresnahan, chair of the group's judicial nominee vetting committee, said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Republican senators questioned the credibility of the process.

"They do a terrific job ordinarily, but sometimes they're just ridiculous, and in your case I think they're not only ridiculous, they've been political," Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said, adding he would support Grasz's appointment.

The dustup over Grasz comes as the full Senate continues to confirm Trump's judicial choices amid Republican complaints that Democrats are obstructing the process.

Ten have been confirmed so far, including Joan Larsen, who was approved on Wednesday to sit on the federal appeals bench in Cincinnati.

The ABA, the largest lawyers group in the United States, says its judicial evaluations are non-partisan, taking into account experience, knowledge of the law and other factors, but not political or ideological views.

As Nebraska's former chief deputy attorney general, Grasz defended the state's "partial-birth" abortion ban, among other laws.

Grasz told the senators he would be bound to follow the Supreme Court's abortion precedents. He said that during the second interview by the ABA, "I was asked repeatedly for my personal opinions on social issues including abortion."

Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer, a Republican, called the ABA rating a "baseless political character assassination." She claimed the two main evaluators both had ties with Democrats.

Bresnahan declined comment on Wednesday. She will testify before the Judiciary Committee on Nov. 15.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)