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John Bush Nomination Exposes Partisan Divide

Kentucky jurist’s anonymous blog posts brings up questions of temperament

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein are not on the same page when it comes to the nomination of John Bush to the federal bench. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein are not on the same page when it comes to the nomination of John Bush to the federal bench. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The nomination of John Bush to be a federal appellate court judge underscores how swiftly Senate Republicans can help President Donald Trump reshape the nation’s courts in a conservative direction.

Bush, nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate on Wednesday on a 51-48 vote. Democrats now have an opportunity to air their concerns on the floor ahead of a final confirmation vote later this week.

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Bush’s nomination less than a week ago on an 11-9 party-line vote. Democrats question his fitness to be fair and impartial, pointing to past statements and blog posts written under a pen name that put Bush on the defensive at his confirmation hearing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who introduced his fellow Bluegrass State resident in June as someone with “a strong legal ability and a thoughtful demeanor,” put Bush on this week’s floor schedule when it appeared legislation to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law had stalled.

When asked Tuesday how to explain that legislative setback to voters, McConnell turned to the importance of the federal courts. “We have a new Supreme Court justice,” McConnell told reporters at a news conference, referencing the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch in April.

The move didn’t go unnoticed by opponents of Bush’s nomination, such as abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America. Bush, a lawyer at the Bingham Greenebaum Doll law firm, confirmed in a Senate questionnaire that he wrote more than 400 entries under the pseudonym “G. Morris” on a conservative blog, “Elephants in the Bluegrass.”

“While their healthcare bill withers on the vine, Senator McConnell is hoping the Senate will confirm a shady anonymous Kentucky blogger who lacks the temperament and judgment required to serve a lifetime judicial appointment,” NARAL spokeswoman Kaylie Hanson Long said in a written statement. “John Bush’s extensive anonymous blogging has made it clear that he was handpicked by the Trump administration to carry out the administration’s anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, anti-progressive worldview from the bench.”

There are currently 136 federal judicial vacancies out of 890 authorized judgeships, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. There are currently 24 Trump judicial picks pending, the office states.

If confirmed, Bush would be Trump’s second appeals court appointee. Bush appears to have enough support from Republicans to win confirmation to the 6th Circuit, which hears appeals from federal courts in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

There’s little Democrats can do to keep Bush from the bench except make Republicans go through the procedural hoops to get him there.

Liberal advocacy groups such as Lambda Legal and the Alliance For Justice have urged the Senate to reject Bush for the views expressed in his past blog posts. At his confirmation hearing, Bush apologized for using a Hunter S. Thompson quote that includes a gay slur in a speech about the history of Louisville, Kentucky.

And Democrats peppered him with questions about his views on abortion. He wrote a blog post that called Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, a “tragedy” and went on to compare it to another high court ruling on slavery.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, cited those posts from Bush, as well as those from another nominee under scrutiny at the June confirmation hearing, as reasons she couldn’t support them.

“If I were a litigant before them, I would not have the confidence that these individuals had the temperament or impartiality to serve as a federal judge,” Feinstein said.

Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa has argued that Democrats didn’t have the same concerns over blog postings in 2013 when President Barack Obama’s judicial nominee, Stephen R. Bough, criticized President George W. Bush and several senators online.

Bush told senators last month he could be impartial and that his previously expressed “personal views on constitutional interpretation will be irrelevant” if appointed.

The nomination already changed his life, he said, in that he had to remove bumper stickers referencing Kentucky’s two senators from his truck: “McConnell 2014” and “Rand.”

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