For the third time in the Trump administration, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley has moved forward with a confirmation hearing for an appeals court nominee over the objections of Democratic home-state senators.
The Iowa Republican set a Wednesday confirmation hearing on Ryan Bounds to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, even though Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have declined to give their consent through the committee’s traditional process.
The hearing adds to concerns from Democrats that Grassley has sided with President Donald Trump over his colleagues when it comes to whether the White House adequately consulted them on the nominations, which could portend a weakened influence of senators over federal judicial picks from their state.
Grassley’s move comes in the same week that Republicans have begun a series of confirmation votes on the floor for six appeals court judges, part of a push from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to vote on all of the Trump judicial nominees the committee advances before the new year begins.
The upcoming floor votes include one on Michael Brennan for a spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, even though Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin objected and said the White House disregarded her state’s judicial recommendation process. Brennan’s committee hearing was in January.
Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein reacted to the Bounds hearing by warning Republicans not to cede the Senate’s role in the judicial nominations process to the White House.
“The Senate’s constitutional advice and consent role will only be preserved if senators put aside short-term partisan interests to protect the enduring interests of the Senate regardless of who’s in the White House,” the California Democrat said.
McConnell said last week that he would move judicial nominees even if senators don’t return their “blue slip” — a Judiciary Committee tradition that asks a home-state senator to sign off on a blue piece of paper before the committee moves forward with a judicial confirmation hearing.
“My view is, no one senator ought to be able to stop a circuit court judge,” the Kentucky Republican said during a radio interview.
Tradition not ending?
But Grassley has argued for months that he is not ending the blue slip tradition. He said he would schedule confirmation hearings for appeals court nominees over the objections of home-state senators as long as the White House consulted with those senators.
When it comes to Bounds, Grassley delayed a confirmation hearing for months to assuage the Oregon senators’ concerns about Trump not consulting with the state’s judicial selection committee.
In September, when Trump initially nominated the federal prosecutor for the 9th Circuit spot, Wyden and Merkley withheld their blue slips and said the White House didn’t wait for their state’s bipartisan selection process.
An Oregon selection committee ultimately put Bounds among a group of four top candidates for the 9th Circuit slot. In February, Wyden and Merkley sent the results to the White House.
“There was ample consultation between the White House and the Oregon senators on this nomination,” said Taylor Foy, a Judiciary spokesman. “The White House reached out to discuss the vacancy nearly 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.”
Wyden and Merkley still did not return their blue slips and do not support Bounds even after the selection committee made its recommendation.
“After the committee finished its work, we learned that Ryan Bounds failed to disclose inflammatory writings that reveal archaic and alarming views about sexual assault, the rights of workers, people of color, and the LGBTQ community,” the Oregon senators said in a joint news release. “While we have followed through on our commitment to forward to the White House the names reported by the committee, we do not believe Mr. Bounds is a suitable nominee for a lifetime appointment to the bench.”
The committee held a hearing in November for David Stras to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit despite similar concerns about White House consultation from Minnesota Sen. Al Franken. Stras was confirmed in January.
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