Democrats Hope to Build on Defeat of Oregon Judicial Candidate’s Nomination

The way Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley used Ryan Bounds' past writings against him provides a template for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

Sens. Ron Wyden (left) and Jeff Merkley. (Courtesy of Sen. Jeff Merkley)

Senate Democrats' surprising defeat of the nomination of Assistant U.S. Attorney for Oregon Ryan Bounds for a spot on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week may be a curtain-raiser for the upcoming battle over President Donald J. Trump's pick for a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

As the New York Times reports in Sunday's edition, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.) took the unusual step of crossing the aisle and entering the inner sanctum of the GOP majority, who had the numerical advantage to approve Bounds' nomination on a party line vote.

"The doors to the Republican cloakroom off the Senate floor swung open and out walked Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who is not usually found in the inner sanctum of the majority party," the Times reports. "He had been buttonholing Republican colleagues, trying to persuade them that racially charged college writings by Ryan W. Bounds, a federal appeals court nominee from Mr. Wyden's home state, were disqualifying and that he should be rejected."

Ultimately, Wyden and his colleague and fellow strident Bounds critic, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) were able to focus the Senate's only black GOP member, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) on opinion pieces Bounds wrote 25 years ago as an undergraduate at Stanford.

Those writings, which contained opinions dismissive of multiculturalism, gay rights and other equity issues, caused Scott and then his colleague Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to withdraw support Thursday just before a scheduled floor vote on Bounds.

Republicans control the Senate 51 to 49 but with Sen. John McCain absent with brain cancer, the GOP could not afford to lose even one vote. Scott's defection, which the Times calls a "stunning development," raises the prospect that Democrats will now exhume every word that federal appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh has ever written or uttered in public. President Donald J. Trump nominated Kavanaugh earlier this month to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring.

The zealous examination of Supreme Court nominees' backgrounds has always been part of the confirmation process but Democrats will be particularly motivated to scrutinize Kavanaugh's past given Republicans' thin margin of Senate control and Democrats' animosity toward Trump's agenda.

"Democrats want access to hundreds of thousands of documents and emails from Mr. Kavanaugh's service in the administration of George W. Bush," the Times reports, "and Republicans are resisting."

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