The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to confirm the nomination of Ryan Bounds to sit as a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The vote was 11-10, along party lines.
Bounds, a federal prosecutor in Oregon, still needs the confirmation of the full U.S. Senate.
Legal observers say Bounds’ nomination essentially unravels the long-held tradition where home state senators can block nominees they see as unfit.
If confirmed, it could be the first time a federal judge is confirmed over the objections of both home state senators — in this case Sens. Jeff Merkely and Ron Wyden, both Democrats.
Merkley and Wyden argue Bounds is unqualified and cite what they call “offensive” writings from college, which the senators said Bounds tried to keep from becoming public during the nomination process.
Those writings in the 1990s criticized multiculturalism, racial equity and inclusion groups, and university responses to sexual assault. After the writings became public, Bounds called them “poorly written and ill-conceived.”
Republicans on the committee have defended Bounds and the process. They say he wasn’t asked to provide college writings during the nomination and interview process.
“I’m satisfied that the White House adequately consulted with the home state senators,” Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who chairs the committee, said Thursday.
Before Republicans voted to confirm Bounds, Democrats decried the practice.
“The White House has too often failed to consult with home state Democratic senators and this committee has been too quick to advance nominees over the objections of home state senators,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee. “And this is the case with the nominee on today’s agenda, Ryan Bounds.”
Until now, Feinstein argued, there had not been a nominee to get a hearing without at least one so-called “blue slip” — the forms home state senators return to indicate their support for a nominee.
“What happened today cinches it, barring what I’d call a renegade vote,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.
Bounds could head for a full vote in the U.S. Senate this month. Tobias said that would also likely be along party lines.