Senate committee to consider controversial Ninth Circuit Court nominee

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to consider next week a presidential nominee to a federal appeals court, despite opposition from both the nominee's state senators.

No nominee has gone that far with that sort of objection since 2004.

A spokesman for Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee chairman, confirmed Thursday that the panel plans to hold a hearing May 9 on the nomination of Ryan Bounds, President Donald Trump's nominee to a judgeship on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Typically, circuit and district judge nominees get written support — known as blue slips — from both home-state senators before their nominations proceed to the committee. Typically, nominations do not proceed without blue slips from both home-state senators.

Both senators from Oregon, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, oppose Bounds' nomination, accusing him of failing to disclose "inflammatory writings that reveal archaic and alarming views about sexual assault, the rights of workers, people of color, and the LGBTQ community." Bounds submitted copies of those writings in public documents to the Judiciary Committee.

Bounds, a political conservative, has since apologized for the writings from his days as a student at Stanford University, calling them "ill-considered, tone-deaf, and mortifyingly insensitive pronouncements of one's youth."

While Grassley has indicated repeatedly that he does not see a lack of blue slips as having veto power over circuit judge nominees, this is the first time he has allowed such a nominee to proceed to committee lacking support from both home-state senators.

The last time a federal judicial nomination went forward despite opposition from both home-state senators was 2004, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, allowed four judicial nominees to get a hearing despite objections from both home-state senators in 2003 and 2004, but none were ultimately confirmed.

President Donald Trump said that he encourages Senate Republicans to "go nuclear" during the Supreme Court nomination process for Judge Neil Gorsuch, if they face pushback from Democrats.

The Congressional Research Service could not find a single instance where a nominee without at least one blue slip was confirmed by the Senate.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top judicial committee Democrat, called the development a "devastating blow" to the blue slip process and indicated it was hypocritical on Grassley's part.

“This would be the third nominee to move over the objection of Democratic home-state senators when (Grassley) did not allow a single (President Barack) Obama nominee to move forward over the objection of a Republican senator," Feinstein said in a statement. "Democrats aren’t asking for special treatment, we’re only asking for the same treatment."

The blue slip process is up to the discretion of the chairman. No judicial nominees proceeded without blue slips from both home-state senators during the presidency of Barack Obama. But previous chairmen, including former Vice President Joe Biden, have shared Grassley's view on the process.

Taylor Foy, a Grassley spokesman, said Bounds has fully complied with the vetting process and has bipartisan support within his home state.

"There was ample consultation between the White House and the Oregon senators on this nomination," Foy said. "The White House reached out to discuss the vacancy more than a year ago, seriously considered the only candidate suggested by the senators, and waited several months for the senators to establish their judicial selection committee despite being told the process would move much more quickly. That bipartisan selection committee ultimately approved Mr. Bounds."

Foy also said the lack of nominees to be confirmed by the Senate without blue slips in the past was more due to previous filibuster rules rather than the blue slip process.

Bounds' opinion pieces in the Stanford Review in the 1990s derided multiculturalism on campus and expressed disdain for "race-focused groups," as well as criticizing the university lowering the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in sexual assault cases.

Bounds is now a 44-year-old federal prosecutor and served in the Department of Justice during the Bush and Obama Administrations. He resigned as chair of the Multnomah Bar Association's equity, diversity and inclusion committee in February, after the board sought his resignation over the college writings. He said in an email to members that "the objectionable words and views recited from three or four of my college op-eds do not reflect the views I have hewn to as a lawyer, and frankly, as a grown-up.''

Trump has repeatedly called for remaking the Ninth Circuit court, expressing frustration at the amount of power given to the overwhelmingly liberal majority. The court covers Alaska, Hawaii, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Arizona and Montana.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated no nominees with opposition from both home-state senators had been granted a committee hearing since 1985. Four such judicial nominees proceeded to committee in 2003 and 2004. It also stated Bounds was the current chair of the Multnomah Bar Association's equity, diversity and inclusion committee, but he has since resigned.

Kate Irby: 202-383-6071 @kateirby