Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Who Is Lawrence VanDyke?

Outside the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Calif. (Noah Berger/Reuters)
Who Is Lawrence VanDyke?

Lawrence VanDyke is President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit from Nevada. VanDyke graduated with highest honors with a B.S. degree from Montana State University-Bozeman in 1997 and received a master’s degree from the same school in 2000.

VanDyke worked at his family’s small construction management business before attending Harvard Law School​, where he served as an editor of both the Harvard Law Review and Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 2005 and became an appellate attorney.

Following his law school graduation, VanDyke worked as an Associate Attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Following his first year at the firm, he clerked for the Honorable Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (2006-2007) and then returned to the firm. While in private practice, he handled pro bono matters for such diverse groups as the ACLU, the Free Market Foundation, and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). His work for ADF included representing an Orthodox Jewish Day School in New York that was challenging discriminatory zoning.

In 2012, VanDyke began several years of service in the Solicitor General’s offices of three states, starting with service as Assistant Solicitor General of Texas. Between 2013 and 2014, he served as Solicitor General of Montana and was a candidate for the Supreme Court of Montana in 2014. In 2015, he was appointed Solicitor General of Nevada, a position he held until earlier this year.

VanDyke was born, raised, and has lived most of his adult life in the West; he has spent his legal career on the front lines fighting against federal government overreach threatening the livelihood of this region. Few nominees understand the unique challenges faced by states within their circuits the way VanDyke understands the challenges faced by states in the Ninth Circuit.  He has litigated a number of issues of particular concern to ranching, farming, and small business communities in the Western states.

In Nevada, VanDyke worked to establish a Federalism Unit to combat unlawful overreach by the federal government. He secured an injunction staying enforcement of the EPA’s 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule, which unduly expanded federal power over state and local waters and imposed onerous burdens on ranches and farms as well as government entities.

VanDyke’s challenge to the Bureau of Land Management’s over-broad sage grouse land plan compelled the agency to seek alternative means of meeting its goals. Had the plan been implemented, it would have withdrawn over 10 million acres of land from public use and additionally resulted in significant restrictions on livestock grazing and the development of renewable energy sources on over 16 million acres of public land in Nevada. He also filed an amicus brief opposing another instance of EPA overreach, a Clean Power Plan that threatened substantial hikes to consumers’ electric bills before the agency’s new rule was replaced during the Trump administration.

VanDyke also litigated in defense of the Second Amendment and religious freedom. He filed the multi-state amicus briefs at both the circuit and Supreme Court level in the Trinity Lutheran case. He was also part of the successful multi-state challenge to the Obama administration’s DAPA program, which attempted to legalize and grant numerous benefits to over 4 million illegal aliens without statutory authority. As the lead lawyer for a 22-state coalition, he successfully challenged the Obama administration’s Overtime Rule.

In sum, VanDyke has been the counsel of record on 28 briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court and argued over 20 appeals, most of them in the Ninth Circuit.

If confirmed, VanDyke would become the only circuit judge to have served as solicitor general for two states (in his case, both in the Ninth Circuit). He now serves as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Since law school, VanDyke has been a member of The Federalist Society. He has lectured widely on the law and tutored Nevada high school students. An avid competitive shooter, the International Defensive Pistol Association has ranked him at the skill level of Expert.

He is married and has three children.

Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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