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Senate Committee To Take Up Judicial Nominee Despite Oregon Senators' Objections

<p>Ryan Bounds</p>
<p>Ryan Bounds</p>

Despite objections from Oregon's two U.S. Senators, a conservative federal prosecutor nominated by President Donald Trump to fill a vacancy on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will get his confirmation hearing this week.

If confirmed, Ryan Bounds could be Trump’s first nominee named to the court the president has railed against for blocking several of his executive actions.

Bounds, an assistant federal prosecutor in Portland and a member of the conservative Federalist Society, could also be the first judicial nominee since 2004 to sit for a confirmation hearing over the objections of the state's senators.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider Bounds' nomination Wednesday. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley issued a joint statement Monday calling Bounds an "unqualified nominee." They said Bounds failed to disclose controversial writing from college that were critical of multiculturalism and the LGBTQ community. The writings surfaced after the liberal-leaning Alliance For Justice issued a report with the details in February.

After the report was published, Bounds resigned as head of the Multnomah Bar Association's Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

"I have acknowledged that those editorials were poorly worded and ill-conceived pronouncements of a youth who had much to learn about the world," Bounds wrote in his resignation letter. "I sincerely wish the Board would judge me not on decades-old words, but by the work we have done together."

'Blue Slips' Not Returned

Typically, senators have the ability to block a judicial nominee from their home state by not returning what’s commonly referred to as a blue slip.

Under the Obama administration, both senators from a state had to return the blue slips to advance a nominee. That was even true after Republicans took back the Senate and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, took over the Judiciary Committee, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, where he studies federal judicial selection.

“It just reflects the different composition of the Senate now and the person in the White House, unfortunately," Tobias said. "And that’s not always a good reason to change something. It looks quite partisan.”

In their statement Monday, Wyden and Merkley called it a "shame the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is further diminishing any sense of respect for comity and fairness in the Senate."

Last week, Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California and the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said she opposed Bounds' nomination.

“I oppose Chairman Grassley moving forward with a hearing for a judicial nominee, Ryan Bounds, who does not have a blue slip from either home-state senator," Feinstein said in a statement. "This is a devastating blow to the blue-slip tradition, which ensures that senators have a role in advising on judicial nominees from their states."

Bounds Nomination

Bounds' nomination is one of a number of conservative judicial nominees put forward by the Trump administration.

"It hasn't been a secret that the nominees for the appellate vacancies put forward by the present administration are very conservative ideologically, but they are also very competent. And I think Bounds satisfies that," Tobias said. "They're also very young, and he satisfies that as well."

Bounds, 44, grew up in Umatilla. He attended Stanford University and later Yale Law School.

Tobias said it's unusual to see an assistant U.S. attorney nominated for such a high-level judicial appointment.

"It happens, but it's not a typical track," he said.

Bounds clerked for 9th Circuit Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain.

In September 2017, Bounds was appointed to take O'Scannlain's seat on the bench after O'Scannlain took senior status, which means a diminished caseload.

"I am very proud of Ryan, who was an outstanding law clerk for me," O'Scannlain wrote in an email Monday. "He is a highly credentialed, experienced and respected Oregon lawyer who would be a worthy successor to my position on this great Court. I am pleased that the President nominated him and I look forward to his confirmation by the Senate."

Despite the opposition from Oregon's two Senators, Bounds has had consistent support from the state's lone Republican in Congress, Rep. Greg Walden.

Walden's chief of staff, Lorissa Bounds, is Ryan Bounds' sister. 

In a statement, Walden said Bounds' "deep roots in Oregon" and "breadth of legal experience" make him qualified for the position. Walden called on the committee to move quickly.

 “The Judiciary Committee’s announcement of Ryan Bounds’ confirmation hearing is welcome news," Walden said in a statement. "The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and those with cases before it, are greatly impacted by the seven judicial vacancies on the court and I’m glad the Senate is moving forward to continue filling those seats."

The confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee is set for Wednesday at 7 a.m. PST/10 a.m. EST.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting