Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings took a fiery turn this week when Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri railed against a nominee for expressions of “religious animus” in his legal career.
At the heart of the heated exchange was a legal argument attorney Michael Bogren wrote while representing the city of East Lansing, Michigan in a religious liberty-related court case that began last year, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Farmer Steve Tennes initiated the case last June when his family farm, The Country Mill, was banned from selling products at a farmers market — citing his unwillingness to allow gay weddings on his orchard.
Bogren, now a Trump nominee for the U.S. District Court, came under fire from Hawley when he refused to step away from remarks in his written argument comparing Tennes’ faith-based business practices to activities of the Ku Klux Klan and radical Islamists.
“Senator, the point I was trying to make was that religious beliefs trying to justify discrimination, if extended to sexual orientation — which the city of East Lansing protects — could be used to try to justify any other kind of discrimination. Whether it be gender or race,” Bogren said.
Bogren proceeded, explaining that he had included quotation from a KKK webpage in his argument to show that no “principled distinction” could be drawn legally between a KKK member prohibiting interracial marriage at a family-owned business and the case at hand.
“What I was trying trying to just explain, senator. If one can justify sexual orientation discrimination,” the attorney said before being interrupted.
“So, you think those things are equivalent?” Hawley asked.
“You think that the Catholic families pointing to the teachings of their church is equivalent to a KKK member invoking Christianity?” he added. “You can just give me a yes or no answer.”
“There is no distinction,” Bogren responded. The freshman senator did not relent there.
He alleged that someone who would make that legal argument would not properly uphold the Supreme Court’s decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case — which found arguments of this nature in regard to the religious liberty defenses of petitioners to be unacceptable. In particular, Hawley used Justice Anthony Kennedy‘s own words from the majority decision.
“In that case, Justice Kennedy wrote for majority of the court that a government official who compared the petitioners 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,'” Hawley said.
Unable to receive direct answers from Bogren as to whether the argument fell in line with his personal beliefs, Hawley grew frustrated with what he found to be “fencing” and indirect answers from Bogren.
“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. I am particularly shocked by it in light of the Supreme Court’s clear teaching that this kind of animus, and these kind of hateful comparisons, are out of step with the protections of our law,” Hawley said in closing.
“The fact that you stand by these comments is extraordinary to me.”
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