One of President Donald Trump‘s judicial nominees is facing an uncharacteristically difficult confirmation battle in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Senate Republicans, led by freshman Josh Hawley of Missouri, are taking a stand against U.S. District Court nominee Michael Bogren for standing by what they call expressions of “religious animus” throughout his legal career.
Hawley had raked Bogren over the coals last month in Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for standing by his “anti-faith” defense of East Lansing, Michigan, following their banning of a farmer from selling goods at the farmers market because his Catholic family disallowed gay weddings on its farm.
In particular, Hawley slammed Bogren for defending the city by saying that there was “no distinction” between a business owner citing his or her religious beliefs as a reason not to partake in a transaction and members of the Ku Klux Klan and Islamic terror organizations citing their beliefs.
Now, Hawley is standing by his statements — and he is building up a small but strong coalition to stop the nomination.
According to Politico, the Missouri senator already has support from Ted Cruz of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — prominent members of the Judiciary Committee.
Others may soon follow, sources told the outlet, an unprecedented move within the current committee, which moved the 100th Trump administration nominee to successful Senate floor confirmation in early May, per reports from The Hill.
But it appears, should Democratic members of the Senate not hold reservations on Bogren’s other legal dealings and judicial values, he may be confirmed without unanimous Republican support.
Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Bogren’s native Michigan said they will support the nominee and are surprised by their Republican colleagues’ reservations.
“This is somebody with a 30-year legal career who was strongly recommended by a bipartisan committee in Michigan and he’s a Republican nominee,” Stabenow reportedly said. “I’m surprised that there would be this kind of reaction to him.”
Hawley responded to criticisms by saying that he would not back down any time soon.
“You can represent a client very vigorously without stooping to personal insults and to really vicious, in this case, anti-faith attacks,” he said.
In his initial exchange with Bogren during the hearings, Hawley cornered the lawyer on the religious liberty case, saying that he did not trust Bogren to stay true to the Supreme Court’s majority decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
Masterpiece Cakeshop determined that it was “impermissible” for the government to express “religious animus” against petitioners by questioning their deeply held religious beliefs or comparing them to radical hate group’s beliefs in cases where religious liberty is being cited as a defense.
The freshman senator posted video of that initial exchange to his YouTube channel several weeks ago.
“You think that the Catholic families pointing to the teachings of their church is equivalent to a KKK member invoking Christianity?” Hawley had asked.
“Justice Kennedy wrote for majority of the court that a government official who compared the petitioner’s invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust, and I’m quoting now, ‘demonstrated impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious belief that motivated his objection,” he said when Bogren indicated that “no distinction” exists.
“All I can tell you is, I am shocked by the statements that I read in your briefs. I am shocked by this kind of language,” Hawley added. “The fact that you stand by these comments is extraordinary to me.”
Prominent conservative legal groups were quick to get on board with Hawley when the video got around.
Advocacy groups from the Judicial Crisis Network to Heritage Action and the Conservative Action Project have come out of the woodwork to rebuke Bogren and ask the president to withdraw his nomination.
Even so, according to Politico, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Sens. John Kennedy of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Chuck Grassley of Iowa are all undecided, unsure if the defense employed for a client should be held against the lawyer as he pursues judgeship.
Senator Tillis, one of Hawley’s comrades in the fight against Bogren, said that what concerns him the most was the nominee’s unwillingness to personally step away from the defense he made and say that they may not have been respectful to Americans of faith or the First Amendment.
“I get the idea that we should not necessarily oppose a judicial nominee because they advocated for a client,” Tillis said. “But when he was given an opportunity to say, ‘Can you really rethink the arguments that you use’ and he goes back and doesn’t really respond and says he stands by them, if nothing else it speaks to temperament.”
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