Ninth Circuit Pick Faces Scrutiny Over Views on Race

WASHINGTON (CN) – Two nominees to federal district courts in Texas breezed through their nomination hearing Tuesday morning, hours after Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee raised concerns about a Ninth Circuit nominee’s past writings on race.

Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee was a rare one that did not include a circuit court nominee. Instead, the committee heard from Sean Jordan, who is up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, and Texas Second Court of Appeals Justice Mark Pittman, who is nominated to a position on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Like most nominees to federal district courts, Jordan and Pittman faced few contentious questions from senators.

Running in the background of the hearing was the nomination of Kenneth Lee, a California attorney who is up for a spot on the Ninth Circuit. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both California Democrats who sit on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Monday night that committee staff had late last week uncovered new controversial writings Lee did not initially turn over to the committee.  

Taylor Reidy, a spokeswoman for the Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that the administration did not “turn over all of the routine nominations paperwork in time for Mr. Lee to be a witness” at Tuesday’s hearing. Reidy said the information was related to background checks, and not to the writings Feinstein and Harris mentioned Monday.

Trump initially tapped Lee to the Ninth Circuit in November, but the Senate did not take action on his nomination before the end of the Congress. Trump announced at the end of January that he would be renominating Lee to the same position. 

Most of the articles Lee wrote that Harris and Feinstein mentioned in the statement are from his time as an undergrad at Cornell University, though one comes from 1999, when Lee was attending Harvard Law School. The senators said Lee turned over the articles only after Democrats requested them.

They also said Lee did not turn over a batch of writings to their judicial nominating commission and that he has not provided one article from 1996 that the committee requested on Friday.

“Not only does this indicate an intention to obstruct the vetting process, it indicates Lee may continue to hold extreme and troubling views on race, which would place him out of step with the mainstream legal community in California,” the senators said in a statement Monday. “The committee should not be moving forward with a hearing at any date.”

The articles Feinstein and Harris mentioned Monday appear similar to those that sank the nomination of Ryan Bounds, a Trump pick for the Ninth Circuit the White House withdrew after Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C., and other Republicans objected to racially insensitive writings from Bounds’ time as an undergrad.

According to the statement released Monday, Lee in one article wrote that “liberals rarely fault a black criminal for his crime, lest they appear racist.” Lee, who is a Korean immigrant, went on to write that the “majority of the crimes committed today are black-on-black crimes” and that “by having this lax attitude toward black crime, white liberals are allowing the majority of law-abiding African Americans to be continually victimized.”

In another writing Feinstein and Harris referenced, Lee lamented policies at Cornell he said gave the university “a notorious reputation for championing racial group-think and multicultural dogma.”

Lee currently works as a partner at the Los Angeles firm Jenner & Block, a job he has held since 2009. He also spent time in the George W. Bush administration, working as associate counsel and special assistant to the president from 2006 to 2009.

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