Griffith: Round Two for Unfit Judicial Nominee

PFAW: First confirmation hearing strengthened case against lawyer who practices without a license, is hostile toward Title IX anti-discrimination provisions

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a second confirmation hearing for D.C. Circuit nominee Thomas Griffith, a Utah attorney who received a barely passing grade from the American Bar Association and whose confirmation has been opposed by Utah's largest newspaper. People For the American Way today sent members of the Judiciary Committee a letter detailing how Griffith’s first confirmation hearing in November actually strengthened the case against his confirmation.

Before Griffith’s first hearing, People For the American Way had urged senators to oppose his confirmation based on two major problems with his record: his extreme hostility to Title IX anti-discrimination provisions and his practicing law with a suspended license in the District of Columbia and without a license at all in Utah. The letter released today documents that Griffith’s testimony in November was an unsuccessful attempt to minimize concerns about his position on civil rights remedies and to explain away his clear record of violating Utah law prohibiting the practice of law without a license.

“A lawyer who has clearly violated state law, and who has answered serious questions about his record with assertions that simply do not wash, does not belong on the federal appeals court,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas. “Neither does a lawyer who has staked out radical positions against remedies to discrimination. If this is the best the Bush administration can come up with, it’s a good thing the vacancy rate on the federal courts is the lowest it has been in decades.”

First Hearing Failure

Griffith attempted at his first hearing to obscure the depth of his hostility to a key provision of Title IX that allows a school to demonstrate that it is in compliance with the law if athletic opportunities for males and females are in substantial proportion to each gender’s representation in the student body. The record is clear that Griffith, far from staking out a “moderate” position that he now claims, actually pushed a federal commission to eliminate the provision as illegal even though it had been upheld by multiple federal appellate courts.

PFAW’s letter also notes that documents released to the public at Griffith’s first hearing reveal that he gave false answers, under oath, to questions on a Utah Bar application about whether he had ever been suspended as an attorney and the cases on which he had acted as an attorney in the state of Utah. Griffith denied ever having been suspended – despite two suspensions from the D.C. bar, the second lasting three years – and wrote that he had practiced law as General Counsel at Brigham Young University as a member of the Bar of the District of Columbia, even though he had been suspended from the D.C. Bar for nonpayment of dues.

In answers to senators’ questions since the first hearing, Griffith dug himself a deeper hole, admitting that he is practicing law in Utah without a Utah license. Griffith has concocted a theory about why he can do so as long as he is associated with other Utah lawyers, but he freely admits that Utah law contains no such exception to the express requirement that every attorney practicing in the state must be licensed to do so. Griffith could have resolved this issue simply by taking the Utah bar exam, which he could have taken at least eight times over the past four years, but he has failed to do so, apparently considering himself above the law.

Unfit for a Powerful Lifetime Seat on the D.C. Circuit Court

Both the New York Times and the Salt Lake Tribune – one of the leading newspapers in Mr. Griffith’s home state – have published editorials stating that in light of Mr. Griffith’s failure to abide by applicable Bar licensing rules, particularly in Utah, where every indication is that the failure has been knowing, he should not be confirmed for the federal bench. A columnist for another Utah paper wrote that Griffith “apparently thinks that rules don’t apply to him.”

“Thomas Griffith’s willingness to ignore the rules and flout the law make him unfit to be a federal judge,” said Neas, who added that Griffith is an especially inappropriate nominee for the D.C. Circuit, which has special jurisdiction over federal regulatory agencies and their rulemaking procedures.

“The D.C. Circuit is often a stepping-stone to the Supreme Court,” said Neas. “Griffith’s nomination certainly does not give any cause for hope about the quality of President Bush’s Supreme Court nominees.”

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