A gavel sits on a desk inside the Court of Appeals at the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which celebrated its official opening on Monday Jan. 14, 2013, in Denver. 
Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP

An unexpected setback in the Republican campaign to remake the courts


As a rule, Senate Republicans effectively serve as a rubber stamp for Donald Trump’s judicial nominees. The far-right tells the White House which jurists to nominate; the president obliges; and GOP senators confirm them at a breathtaking pace, remaking the federal judiciary in the process.

But once in a great while, there’s a hiccup. Late last year, for example, Brett Talley withdrew because of his profound lack of qualifications; Jeff Mateer’s nomination ended when senators learned of his bizarre anti-LGBT animus; and Matthew Petersen called it quits following a humiliating confirmation hearing.

Yesterday, in an unexpected development, the list of derailed nominees grew a little longer.

The nomination of one of President Donald Trump’s circuit court nominees was withdrawn Thursday just minutes before the Senate was to vote on his confirmation. The nomination of Ryan Bounds was dropped because of concerns by two Republicans about Bounds’ college writings where he was critical of diversity.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., was the initial GOP senator who defected and was joined by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., after the two discussed the issue. Because of the narrow Republican majority in the Senate and unanimous opposition from Democrats, Senate leaders could afford just one Republican defection to keep the nomination alive.

“The information I had was insufficient for me to be a ‘yes’ vote and therefore I was looking for more information that has not yet been provided,” Scott, the chamber’s only African-American Republican, told reporters.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) added, “There were some writings from when he was a student at Stanford that were maybe not racially sensitive. They weren’t racist but there is some concern that the issue could have been handled with more sensitivity.”

As attempts at political spin go, “maybe not racially sensitive” is a memorable phrase.

NBC News’ report added that Bounds writings at Stanford “were critical of diversity efforts. He called multicultural organizations ‘feel-good ethnic hoedowns’ and wrote that ‘race-focused groups’ should not operate on campus, arguing that ‘white students, after all, seem to be doing all right without an Aryan Student Union,’ according to the liberal group Alliance for Justice and confirmed by a senior aide to Sen. Scott.”

What’s more, as Slate noted, Bounds, a Federalist Society member, did not disclose these past statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee. (He apologized once they came to light.)

By one measure, Bounds’ nomination shouldn’t have even reached the floor. Trump nominated the Oregon U.S. Attorney to serve on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and under the Senate’s blue-slip rule, the fact that Bounds was opposed by both of his home-state senators should have automatically derailed him.

But Senate Republicans who insisted that Democrats honor the blue-slip rule during the Obama era have decided to play by a different set of rules in the Trump era.

Regardless, Bounds’ record led to opposition, not from the GOP’s ostensible centrists, who were apparently prepared to confirm him to a lifetime position on the federal bench, but by a South Carolina conservative who was uncomfortable with the nominee’s racial rhetoric.

In a 51-49 Senate, it’s incredibly easy for a member or two to make an enormous difference. It’s a lesson Republican “moderates” (Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski) and GOP Trump critics (Jeff Flake and Bob Corker) should make an effort to remember.