By Maxine Bernstein. The Oregonian/OregonLive. September 18, 2017
In the ongoing dispute between the state’s two U.S. senators and the Trump administration, the White House counsel accuses the lawmakers of failing to consider the administration’s pick for a judicial vacancy on a federal appellate court.
The White House last week nominated Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Bounds, a young, politically conservative federal prosecutor, for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, want U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez, a Republican, for the vacancy.
Wyden and Merkley have vowed to block Bounds’ nomination, saying that he wasn’t vetted through their bipartisan judicial selection committee.
White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II said the senators had plenty of time to raise any objections or suggest alternatives when the White House first raised Bounds as the leading candidate in May.
But they didn’t, McGahn said in a letter to the senators on Sept. 6, a day before the White House announced Bounds’ nomination. He complained about their lack of “active engagement” to find a replacement for Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, who assumed senior status last December.
“Judge O’Scannlain’s seat has been vacant for nine months, and we have tried to work with your offices for at least four of them. In May, your staff informed us you would need four to six weeks to complete your process and send us a list of suggested candidates,” McGahn wrote. “While we had hoped the monthlong August recess would have afforded an opportunity for you to meet with Mr. Bounds in Oregon, that did not happen.”
The White House, instead, received a phone call from Wyden’s staff asking the president to consider Hernandez for the vacancy, McGahn said. The counsel’s office interviewed Hernandez at the White House and Hernandez also talked to legal policy staff at the U.S. Justice Department, McGahn noted.
The White House counsel later informed the senators that though his office enjoyed meeting with Hernandez, the administration was prepared to nominate Bounds.
McGahn in the Sept. 6 letter said he expected Oregon senators to continue returning their so-called blue slips to the Senate Judiciary Committee to fill 144 federal judicial vacancies. Since the early 20thcentury, it’s been a long but informal Senate practice for the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee—the committee responsible for evaluating judicial nominees before they are sent to the full Senate—to send letters on blue paper, now known as blue slips, to senators from a nominee’s home state asking them to approve or object to the nomination.
Wyden and Merkley have said they won’t return the blue slip on behalf of Bounds to the Senate Judiciary Committee for nomination.
“We have a long history of organizing a committee charged with thoroughly vetting applicants from the Oregon legal community,” the two senators wrote to McGahn on Sept. 7. “Unfortunately it is now apparent that you never intended to allow our longstanding process to play out.”