Both of Oregon’s U.S. senators pushed back hard and fast against a Sept. 7 move by the Trump Administration. The senators all but accuse the White House of a power play involving nepotism and patronage in its nomination of Ryan Bounds to fill a vacancy on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley threw an immediate obstacle in front of President Trump’s nomination of Bounds by writing a strongly worded letter to White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn declaring their refusal to return “blue slips” on the nomination, saying they are choosing to honor the longstanding bipartisan process for making judicial selections.
A “blue slip” is a slip sent to both senators from a nominee’s state, in which they can submit a favorable or unfavorable opinion of a nominee. The Senate Judiciary Committee takes blue slips into account when deciding whether to recommend that the Senate confirm a nominee.
Refusing to return a blue slip, as Merkley and Wyden have both done, shows an objection to the nominee.
On Monday, Eugene Weekly obtained a memo from Wyden’s office calling for applications for the vacancy on the Oregon seat on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — a bold call suggesting that the senators are proceeding under the assumption that Trump’s nomination will not be confirmed in the U.S. Senate.
Applications are also being accepted for a vacancy in the U.S. District Court of Oregon, and the deadline to apply for both positions is Oct. 1, the memo says. The short deadline, as well as established process of a selection committee choosing finalists before forwarding them to the White House, is a clear counter-move against Trump’s attempt to ignore judicial tradition.
In the letter to McGahn, Wyden and Merkley say that by nominating Bounds, the Senate would be dishonoring Oregon’s “long bipartisan tradition of working together to identify the most qualified candidates for judicial vacancies.”
Merkley and Wyden also note that disregarding the tradition brings back the days of “nepotism and patronage that harmed our courts and placed unfit judges on the bench.” They further mention that they previously communicated their intent for the selection process by providing the White House counsel a list of names to consider — but wrote that now it is clear Trump “never intended to allow our longstanding process to play out.”
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is reputedly the nation’s most liberal federal court district. In sharp contrast, Bounds, originally from Hermiston, previously served as a White House advisor to former President George W. Bush, and is a member of the Federalist Society — an organization of conservative lawyers and judges.
“You have demonstrated that you were only interested in our input if we were willing to preapprove your preferred nominee,” the senators wrote. “The judicial selection process is not a rubber stamp, and the insinuation that our offices were purposefully delaying the process is an indication of the partisanship with which you are pursuing this nomination.”
The senators say that they are choosing to honor the longstanding bipartisan process and will not return blue slips for Bounds — nor for any nominee that is not selected through Oregon’s judicial selection process.