The nomination of Oregon prosecutor Ryan Bounds to a seat on a powerful federal appeals court collapsed Thursday after it became clear he didn’t have enough votes to win Senate approval.
In a surprise move, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled Bounds’ nomination from the Senate floor instead of going ahead with a planned vote. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters in the Capitol that the decision to pull the appointment was made in consultation with the White House.
Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley had joined with their Democratic colleagues in hammering Bounds for weeks over his two-decade-old writings about race, gay rights and other topics that they said disqualified him for the seat.
The key figure in the unexpected drama, though, was South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate.
Scott said he talked with Bounds on Wednesday night and met the nominee Thursday. However, Scott said in a statement, “I had unanswered questions that led to me being unable to support him.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, also shared Scott’s concerns. In the closely divided Senate, that was enough to doom Bounds, a 45-year-old prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, for a seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Today, the Senate came to its senses in respect to judges,” an exultant Wyden told OPB. “This process has been flawed for months and months.”
Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon’s only Republican in Congress, said Bounds deserved better. The congressman had championed President Donald Trump’s appointment of Bounds, who grew up in his district and whose family has been active in GOP politics. His sister, Lorissa Bounds, is Walden’s chief of staff.
“There was a day when a man of his intellect, experience and ability would have easily won confirmation,” Walden said in a statement. “Instead of judging him on his life’s work as a successful federal prosecutor and respected member of the legal community, he was trashed for a couple of columns he wrote as a 21-year-old college student at Stanford.”
Bounds wrote for a provocative student newspaper founded by conservatives pushing back against campus liberalism.
In the paper, he expressed views that multiculturalism did more to aggravate intolerance than “many a Nazi bookburning.” And he wrote about gays and sexual assault in a manner that brought down criticism during his confirmation hearings.
The Oregon prosecutor had long been a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group that has played a key role in bringing potential nominees to the attention of the Trump administration.
At first, Bounds was included in a list of four potential nominees that a judicial selection committee overseen by Oregon’s congressional delegation sent to the White House.
His college writings, however, did not come to light until afterward. Five of the seven committee members said they would not have included Bounds on the list if they had known about that work. And Merkley and Wyden said Bounds had deliberately hidden those writings from the committee — something the candidate denied.
The two senators refused to sign the traditional “blue slip” signaling that a home-state senator can accept a judicial nominee. Despite that, Republican Senate leaders moved forward with the Bounds nomination as he apologized for several of his controversial statements.
Merkley said in a statement that he was pleased that the “integrity of our courts and of a 101-year tradition of consulting home state senators on judicial appointments” was preserved by the withdrawal of Bounds’ nomination.
In many ways, Bounds had fit the mold of just the kind of judge Republicans are seeking. He’s a longtime conservative, a prosecutor and, at 45, young enough to have an impact on the courts for decades.
The 9th Circuit appeals court is well-known for its liberal opinions, many of which have come under fire from more conservative majorities on the Supreme Court.
In Bounds’ case, he would not have changed the makeup of the court. He had been nominated to replace Diarmuid O’Scannlain, a conservative jurist appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Bounds once clerked for O’Scannlain, who took senior status in 2016.
O’Scannlain issued a statement saying “there isn’t a racist bone in his body” and that he would have been a “superb judge on this Court.”