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A Trump judicial nominee apologizes for controversial articles mocking multiculturalism

Ryan Bounds is sworn in before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in D.C. on May 9. (Yuri Gripas)

This story has been updated.

President Trump’s nominee for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit apologized during his confirmation hearing Wednesday. At issue: a slate of articles disparaging multiculturalism that he wrote more than 20 years ago as a Stanford University student.

Ryan W. Bounds, a conservative federal prosecutor in Oregon, faced intense grilling from Democrats during his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Bounds’s controversial commentaries, written in the Stanford Review in the 1990s, criticized race-focused groups and questioned the value of cultural sensitivity training.

Bounds told senators his rhetoric had been “overheated” back then and offered apologies for the tone of some of his writings.

“I share the concerns of many that the rhetoric I used in debating campus politics back in the early ’90s on Stanford’s campus was often overheated, overbroad,” he said, adding that his views were “not as respectful” as they should have been “about how to best pursue diversity and ensure a multicultural respect on campus.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) led Senate Republicans in pushing forward with the hearing, despite staunch opposition from both of Oregon’s senators, Ron Wyden and Jeffrey E. Merkley. In a rare move, the hearing proceeded despite both Oregon senators’ refusing to turn in “blue slips”: the pieces of paper used to signal approval of a nominee. When the slips aren’t submitted, it has often been treated as veto power of a nominee.

But not this time.

“Today, we’re making history — really bad history, for this institution and for the country and our Constitution,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat on the committee.

In one of his Stanford articles, Bounds described a phenomenon he called “race-think,” in which “multiculturalistas” and ethnic minorities bonded together to form groups of “racial purity” that he claimed ended up creating more division.

“During my years in our Multicultural Garden of Eden,” he wrote, “I have often marveled at the odd strategies that some of the more strident racial factions of the student body employ in their attempts to ‘heighten consciousness,’ ‘build tolerance,’ ‘promote diversity’ and otherwise convince us to partake of that fruit which promises to open our eyes to a PC version of the knowledge of good and evil. I am mystified because these tactics seem always to contribute more to restricting consciousness, aggravating intolerance and pigeonholing cultural identities than many a Nazi bookburning.”

In another article, he urged the university not to lower the burden of proof in finding accused rapists in violation of university policy, writing that “there is nothing really inherently wrong with the University failing to punish an alleged rapist — regardless of his guilt — in the absence of adequate certainty,” and adding, “expelling students is probably not going to contribute a great deal toward a rape victim’s recovery.”

Bounds told senators Wednesday his point was that the only way to stop rapists was to convict them in criminal court and put them behind bars, something the university couldn’t do.

In a third article he mocked the importance of “Sensitivity” and the university’s decision to make all students undergo mandatory sensitivity training after an LGBT statue was vandalized. He described sensitivity as a “pestilence” that “stalks us.”

“These sweet victories of Sensitivity reveal one thing: if we fancy ourselves oppressed (regardless of how oppressed, ignored, or downtrodden we objectively are) we will see the world, however unrealistically, as overflowing with instances that support our perception.”

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), citing the above passage in part, asked Bounds to clarify whether he believes that people in the LGBT community and people of color experience real discrimination today. Bounds said he “definitely” did.

“I’ve always fought as much as I could, whenever I’ve seen it, against people’s impulses to engage in that sort of behavior,” he said. “These articles are perhaps clumsy efforts to fight against it.”

Should Bounds be confirmed, he would add a conservative voice to a bench that has come to be seen as one of the most liberal in the United States, often drawing the ire of Trump when it rules against his favor — which has been often. The 9th Circuit has ruled against the administration’s entry ban, as well as its attempts to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary cities.” Bounds, who previously worked on immigration cases extensively at the Justice Department, may add a dimension to the bench that falls more in line with Trump’s agenda on that issue.

Oregon’s sole Republican congressman, Rep. Greg Walden, wrote to Trump in a letter urging Bounds’s appointment: “To keep his litigation skills sharp, Ryan volunteered to defend immigration judges’ removal orders in circuits around the country.”

Bounds is being considered for the seat of Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, who recently retired. Bounds had started his legal career as a clerk for O’Scannlain, which supporters of his nomination said makes Bounds an ideal legal mind to replace him. The opening is one of eight vacancies on the court, which Trump has struggled to fill.

Bounds’s legal philosophy — a strict reading of the Constitution — has often been compared to O’Scannlain’s, as well as late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his successor, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. Bounds is a member of the Federalist Society, a group of conservatives and libertarians whose leadership authored a judicial plan for the Trump administration featuring a section titled “Undoing President Barack Obama’s Judicial Legacy.”

That is exactly what Democratic senators contended that Bounds’s nomination represented Wednesday.

Democrats were quick to point out that Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did not nominate their preferred appointees to federal benches if they could not win the support of a state’s two senators, a tradition they say Trump has ignored.

“For the last 10 months the administration has tried its level best to move our country backward, to roll back progress by implementing a deeply destructive and deeply unpopular agenda,” Blumenthal said. “They want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. They want to abandon LGBT Americans. They want to make it harder to vote, harder to organize, harder to breathe clean air and drink clean water. And these issues of policy are before us in the legislature, but they’re also before the courts, and the administration is seeking to leave a lasting mark, perhaps its chief legacy on this country, through its judicial nominees.”

Republicans such as Cruz and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa pushed back against Democrats’ complaints of an unfair judicial nomination process for Bounds, emphasizing the dozens of letters of support that he received. In one, two former board members from the Oregon chapter of American Constitution Society described Bounds as open-minded, with a “track record for engaging with progressive perspectives” despite his political differences.

However, the Oregon chapter of the American Constitution Society said Thursday that the letter does not represent its official position and that the organization does not endorse judicial nominees.

Clarification: A previous version of the story said the letter from the American Constitution Society came from its leaders. It came from former board members. The Society has not endorsed Bounds.

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