WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Ninth Circuit apologized on Wednesday for the “overheated, overbroad” rhetoric in several op-eds he wrote about campus diversity efforts and racial issues while he was an undergraduate student at Stanford.
Ryan Bounds, a federal prosecutor in Oregon who is up for a seat on the Ninth Circuit, faced scrutiny at his Wednesday nomination hearing for op-eds he wrote for the Stanford Review, a conservative student newspaper.
In the articles, Bounds was critical of racial activist groups on campus, saying in one 1995 article that their efforts “contribute more to restricting consciousness” than “many a Nazi bookburning.”
“Whenever a group of white males happens to be at the same place at the same time, you can be sure that the foul stench of oppression and exploitation lingers in the air,” Bounds wrote. “In contrast, ethnic centers, who sole purpose is to bring together exclusive cliques of students to revel in racial purity, are so righteous that the mere mention of cutting their budgets incites turmoil on the grandest scale.”
In another article, Bounds was also critical of mandatory sensitivity training the university ordered for some student organizations after a gay pride statue was vandalized on campus. In 1994, he took on the university’s decision to lower the standard of proof necessary to punish students accused of sexual assault or rape.
“But there is really nothing inherently wrong with the university failing to punish an alleged rapist – regardless of his guilt – in the absence of adequate certainty; there is nothing that the university can do to objectively ensure that the rapist does not strike again,” Bounds wrote. “Only the legal system can do that, and if it lacks the certainty to do so, it is not necessarily up to the university to stick it to the suspect, anyway, just in case. Expelling students is probably not going to contribute a great deal towards a rape victim’s recovery; there is no moral imperative to risk egregious error in doing so.”
At his nomination hearing Wednesday, Bounds said he understands why people have raised concerns about the articles, acknowledging his writing was “not as respectful as it should have been of people of opposing viewpoints.” However, he insisted to lawmakers he was attempting to further a broader debate over how to best pursue diversity, a cause to which he said he is committed.
“I think that everyone engaged in those debates ultimately had the same objective and pursued that objective in good will, but perhaps maybe overzealously and with overheated rhetoric,” Bounds said. “I certainly in some of those columns feel like I am guilty of having done so.”
He told senators he has worked with his local bar association to advance diversity in the legal profession, helping to start a fellowship program for college students from groups underrepresented in the field. Bounds chaired the Multnomah Bar Association’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee until this February, when he resigned after his Stanford writings resurfaced.
“Making sure that those opportunities are broadly available, particularly to students of underrepresented and underserved communities has been an abiding passion of mine and I am so grateful that I have been allowed to continue that work,” Bounds said.
But Democrats remained concerned about the articles, both because of their controversial contents and because Bounds did not provide them to Oregon’s judicial nominating committee before it recommended him for the Ninth Circuit vacancy.
Bounds said the articles were publicly available and that the nominating committee could have accessed them. He told senators he does not remember the committee asking him to provide any controversial writings and that Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden’s office told him he only needed to submit anything he published after he started law school.
Wyden, a Democrat, took to the Senate floor earlier this week to say he believes Bounds “purposely misled” Oregon’s selection committee by withholding the documents. Wyden said a majority of the commission has said they would not have recommended Bounds if they had seen these writings.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., mentioned Wyden’s remarks at Wednesday’s hearing, saying he shares the concern about Bounds’ transparency during the nomination process.
“At a key point in the judicial selection process, you decided to withhold information from the committee that had a critical, nonpartisan function in vetting and reviewing judicial nominees,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal also objected to the contents of the columns, specifically bringing up Bounds’ reference to racial slurs like “Oreos” “Twinkies” and “coconuts” in the 1995 piece. Bounds explained he was not using those phrases to describe students of color, but rather objecting to their use by other students to describe people who did not conform to racial stereotypes.
“I objected to that strongly, I have always objected to categorizing people by their race and that’s why I wrote that column, to say people should not be treated like this on Stanford’s campus, they should not be treated like this anywhere,” Bounds said.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., pressed Bounds on his article on the mandatory sensitivity training, asking whether he believes LGBT people and people of color are marginalized. Bounds said he does and apologized for the phrasing of his earlier writings.
He became emotional when saying his friends who identify as LGBT have told him stories about times they were physically assaulted, sometimes just after leaving Bounds’ company.
“I definitely do believe that people in long-marginalized communities in the United States continue to face obstacles and to face discrimination and I find it totally unacceptable, and 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,” Bounds said. “And these articles are perhaps clumsy efforts to fight against that.”
Bounds’ hearing was also controversial because neither of his home-state senators signed off on his nomination. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has said senators will not be able to hold up circuit court nominees by refusing to return their so-called blue slips.
Both Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley said they would not sign off on Bounds’ nomination after liberal advocacy group Alliance for Justice unearthed the op-eds, with the senators saying in a statement in February that Bounds misled the Oregon committee by not revealing them.
In addition to Bounds, the Judiciary Committee also heard from Susan Brnovich, who is nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, Chad Kenney, up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Campbell Barker and Jeremy Kernodle, who are both nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
Maureen Ohlhausen, nominated to serve on the Court of Federal Claims, also testified, but like the nominees to federal district courts, received very few questions from the panel.