Senators say the federal prosecutor needs review under state's traditional bipartisan process

PIONEER COURTHOUSE HISTORICAL SOCIETY - Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Bounds of Oregon has been nominated by the Trump administration for a powerful appellate judgeship. But Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley say they will block the nomination until he goes through a review process. Oregon's two Democratic U.S. Senators on Thursday informed the White House they won't approve President Donald Trump's nomination of federal prosecutor Ryan Bounds to sit on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals until he goes through a bipartisan review process — essentially vowing to block consideration of Bounds until they give their OK.

In a Sept. 7 letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn, Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley noted that they had asked the Trump lawyer to direct names of all potential nominees to a committee they were setting up with Walden, one that they said was in keeping with "Oregon's long bipartisan tradition of working together to identify the most qualified candidates for judicial vacancies."

But on Thursday morning the Trump administration announced Bounds' nomination for the powerful appeals court position along with several other nominees around the country — sparking the two Senators to communicate their displeasure.

Wyden and Merkley said they would not provide what are known as "blue slips" approving consideration of Bounds or other judicial nominees until they go through a process that the letter says was described to the White House in May.

Blue slips are a Senate protocol providing the two Senators from each state what amounts to veto power over judicial nominees from their state.

"Unfortunately it is now apparent that you never intended to allow our longstanding process to play out. Instead, you have demonstrated that you were only interested in our input if we were willing to preapprove your preferred nominees," Wyden and Merkley wrote. "Disregarding this Oregon tradition returns us to the days of nepotism and patronage that harmed our courts and placed unfit judges on the bench."

Click to read Senators' letter

By tradition, Oregon has two seats on the 29-judge circuit, which often rules in three-person panels. The appeals court sits one rung down from the U.S. Supreme Court and holds many of the same powers, making rulings and setting precedents that guide the interpretation of federal laws in states on the West Coast as well as Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Hawaii, Montana and Alaska.

The 44-year-old Bounds, from Hermiston, is a Yale Law School graduate and former White House adviser whose family is politically active and close to Oregon's only Republican Congressman, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden — who recommended Bounds for the job in January.

Bounds' sister is Walden's chief of staff, his brother was the national campaign spokesman for John McCain's presidential bid in 2008, and his mother was the subject of a glowing Walden speech on the Congressional floor in 2011 upon her retirement as a teacher. Like Trump's pick for Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, Bounds is a member of the Federalist Society, a group that aims to get conservative lawyers into judgeships.

Bounds was named to replace Appellate Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, who took senior status, essentially semi-retirement, on Jan. 1. He was considered among the most conservative judges on the Ninth Circuit, and Bounds — who clerked for him — was expected to follow in his footsteps, as a devotee of the "originalist" legal philosophy embraced by late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman, a former U.S. Attorney, has also been the subject of speculation as a logical pick for the 9th Circuit, assuming Bounds was not approved.

The Senators' letter focuses on process, not credentials.

"Togther with Congressman Walden, we are soliciting applications and adhering to our longstanding bipartisan process. As we have made clear, we do not intend to return or blue slips for Ryan Bounds or any other nominees that has not been selected through our judicial selection process. We have been working in good faith to conduct our process and look forward to providing you with the results expeditiously once the process is complete."

Walden, a Republican, took a different tone from his Democratic Senate counterparts following the announcement, issuing a statement calling Bounds' nomination "welcome news for rural Oregon. Born and raised in eastern Oregon, Ryan has never lost touch with his roots and understands well the way of life in our communities. He knows firsthand the dominant role federal decisions can make in our region where a majority of land is managed by the federal government. Ryan is also a highly talented and accomplished legal practitioner, with a breadth of experience before both trial and appellate courts."

Click to read Walden letter recommending Bounds in January.

The Senators' letter copies the ranking members of the two main parties on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California.

The letter, however, may not block Bounds from being approved, or stop Trump from filling O'Scannlain's seat with a different candidate. Some Republicans have warned that they could use their majority in the Senate to scrap the blue slip process if Democrats stall too many Trump nominees.

Not only that, but Trump could fill O'Scannlain's seat with a candidate from a different state in the 9th Circuit region, such as Idaho, that has Republican Senators less likely to use their blue slips to block Trump's wishes.

By Nick Budnick
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