Political News

Furor Rising, White House Pulls Its Pick in 9th Circuit

Posted July 19, 2018 7:06 p.m. EDT
Updated July 19, 2018 7:12 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — The sprint by President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to install conservative judges to the nation’s courts hit an unexpected speed bump on Thursday after a nominee for a key federal appeals court was pulled to avoid an embarrassing defeat on the Senate floor.

The nomination of Ryan W. Bounds to serve on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals faced opposition over his writings in college, which included a column in which he railed against “race-focused groups” on campus and “race-think.”

The Senate’s only black Republican, Tim Scott of South Carolina, had concerns about those writings and Bounds’ inability to clarify how his thinking had changed since then, according to a Senate Republican aide.

“After talking with the nominee last night and meeting with him today, I had unanswered questions that led to me being unable to support him,” Scott said in a statement.

Republican leaders have no room for error when the Democratic caucus is united in opposition, given that the party has only a 51-49 majority, and one Republican senator, John McCain of Arizona, has been absent while battling brain cancer.

At least one other Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, agreed to join Scott in opposition to Bounds’ nomination, according to another Republican aide.

“Tim Scott raised some concerns, and this was new information to most people,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, who said that the White House decided to withdraw Bounds’ nomination rather than have it fail.

Adding conservative judges to the 9th Circuit, which covers much of the West and has a liberal reputation, has been a longtime priority of Republicans. But Bounds, a federal prosecutor in Oregon, had faced strenuous opposition from Oregon’s senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats.

Senate Republicans moved ahead with the nomination over their objections, generating howls of protest from Democrats, who accused the majority party of running roughshod over the Senate’s tradition of deference to home-state senators.

By custom, home-state senators use a blue-tinted form, known as a blue slip, to signify whether they are on board with a judicial nominee from their state, although the weight carried by blue slips has varied over the years.

“Today, the Senate came to its senses with respect to judges,” Wyden said, complaining that the White House had “trampled on the whole idea of advise and consent.”

Senate Republicans have had striking success at pushing through conservative judicial nominees, a major priority of the majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The collapse of Bounds’ nomination came as the Senate is preparing to consider a much higher-profile nominee: Brett M. Kavanaugh, the president’s choice to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said on Wednesday that the panel “needs access to all documents from his time at the White House and as a political operative.” She estimated that there would be at least 1 million pages of documents.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, quickly tried to use the fate of Bounds’ nomination to strengthen the argument that Kavanaugh’s records from the years he spent in George W. Bush’s White House are a necessary part of vetting his nomination.

“They just dumped him on his college writings,” Schumer said. “It’s going to be hard to argue that Kavanaugh’s writings in the White House are not relevant.”