Ward Armstrong, a former Democratic Virginia lawmaker that Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) recommended to the White House for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench, is “pro-life and pro-gun” — and those are his own words from a campaign ad he ran in 2011. His campaign website touted his “‘A’ Rating from the NRA.” Meanwhile, he had a 0% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009. Armstrong voted for unconstitutional legislation purporting to nullify Obamacare. And he ran a campaign ad attacking his opponent for “comparing me to Barack Obama.” The same ad touted his opposition to “the Cap and Trade Bill.”
Armstrong, who served as a state lawmaker when Warner was Virginia governor and as state House Minority Leader during Kaine’s time in the governor’s mansion, is one of two names the senators submitted to the White House for a judgeship on the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The White House typically defers to recommendations from home-state senators regarding federal district court nominations, especially when those recommendations come from President Obama’s fellow Democrats, so Armstrong has a strong chance of becoming the president’s nominee.
The former Virginia lawmaker’s voting record, however, puts him very much at odds with President Obama’s policies. Armstrong, for example, voted for TRAP legislation classifying abortion clinics as “a category of ‘hospital.’” This legislation led the state Board of Health to “require existing clinics to meet the same strict building standards as new hospital construction,” an expensive new requirement that often forces clinics to close because they cannot afford the added expense.
On guns, Armstrong supported a bill allowing concealed handguns to be carried in restaurants and bars that serve alcohol, although the bill did also prohibit people with concealed firearms from drinking alcohol at these establishments. On immigration, he voted for legislation “prohibiting the enrollment of an individual determined to be not lawfully present in the United States” in state schools. On health care, he backed a state law claiming to nullify parts of the Affordable Care Act. A year later, a federal appeals court held that this law “reflects no exercise of ‘sovereign power,’ for Virginia lacks the sovereign authority to nullify federal law.”
Armstrong also cast anti-gay votes during his time as a state lawmaker, although he has since recanted many of his past views on gay rights and come out in favor of marriage equality. Prior to this evolution, however, Armstrong backed a state constitutional amendment restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. He also supported legislation providing that state “single-family mortgage loans may be made to more than one person only if the persons to whom the loan is to be made are related by blood, marriage or adoption.” Had this legislation become law, it would have prevented gay couples from obtaining such loans together.
Beyond his legislative record, Armstrong made a sexual joke about a fellow lawmaker in 1998 while speaking on the house floor. During a playful discussion of a basketball game between lawmakers, Armstrong quipped that Del. Jeannemarie Devolites, then a freshman Republican lawmaker, was “coming over to my place later” to “go over the playbook.’ At a post-game party, Armstrong reportedly added that Devoiltes was “‘no Monica Lewinsky,’ but that she had potential.” He later apologized for these comments, saying that “to the extent that some members may have been offended by my remarks, I wish to extend an apology. … I was merely trying to bring a little levity to the process.”
Should Obama choose to nominate Armstrong, it is likely that he will face opposition from many of his traditional allies. Late last year, the president nominated Judge Michael Boggs, a conservative Georgia judge and former lawmaker, as part of a deal with Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Like Armstrong, Boggs cast several votes targeting abortion rights and opposing gay rights while he was a state lawmaker. Boggs’ nomination is opposed by several prominent liberal groups, as well as by a list of Democratic senators that includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
Boggs, however, was recommended by Georgia’s two Republican senators, and they were able to pressure Obama into nominating this conservative judge due to a Senate Judiciary Committee practice that allows home-state senators to veto anyone nominated to a federal judgeship in their state. Both of the Virginia senators who recommended Armstrong, by contrast, are Democrats.
Warner and Kaine’s offices sent a joint statement, which is copied below:
Senator Warner and Senator Kaine recommended two distinguished attorneys, Elizabeth Dillon and Ward Armstrong, who both received the highest ratings from the Virginia Bar Association. Ward Armstrong has the support of Virginia NARAL and Planned Parenthood, the Virginia AFL-CIO, and Democrats and Republicans all over the state. They look forward to supporting both of these nominees as the process moves forward.