President Trump’s pick for a federal judgeship in Michigan withdrew his nomination after complaints from a conservative senator that he compared a Catholic family’s beliefs to racism, two sources familiar with the confirmation process said Tuesday.
Michael Bogren wrote a letter withdrawing from consideration and the Judiciary Committee expects to be notified later this week of the move.
Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican and a member of the Judiciary Committee, had accused Mr. Bogren of a “scorched-earth strategy” when he served as a lawyer for East Lansing in a legal battle Steve and Bridget Tennes, a Catholic couple whom the city banned from taking part in a farmer’s market. The city instituted the ban after the couple refused to allow their orchard to be rented to same-sex couples for weddings.
Mr. Hawley told The Washington Times he would be pleased to see the nominee withdraw.
“This is the right outcome if this is accurate,” Mr. Hawley said. “I applaud that result.”
Fellow Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina had signaled they, too, would vote against Mr. Bogren. All three Republicans sit on the Judiciary Committee, and would have been more than enough to sink his nomination if no Democrats supported him.
Mr. Bogren was nominated in March to the federal bench in western Michigan, and had his hearing in late May, where Mr. Hawley confronted him with his arguments in the case against the Catholic couple, including comparing them to the Ku Klux Klan.
“Those are not my views,” said Mr. Bogren said.
He added that as a lawyer, he represents clients, “not causes.”
“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 discrimination whether it be gender or race,” the nominee said.
Mr. Hawley said Mr. Bogren was free to represent his client, but went too far.
“He said there is no distinction between a Catholic family following the teachings of its church and scripture and a KKK member invoking Christianity for [his] own ends,” Mr. Hawley told The Washington Times on Tuesday. “That’s just wrong.”
The senator’s opposition sparked a feverish debate within conservative circles, with some libertarian-leaning activists defending Mr. Bogren while religious conservatives opposed the nomination.
Ed Whelan, a conservative legal scholar, said Mr. Bogren was doing his job as a lawyer, noting its wrong to hold him personally responsible for his legal advocacy and duty of representation.
“Do conservatives really want to embrace the general proposition that arguments that a lawyer makes on behalf of a client should, without more, be held against the lawyer? That’s a proposition that, apart from being unsound, could redound to the detriment of conservative nominees who have defended religious liberty or pro-life legislation in unpopular contexts,” Mr. Whelan wrote last month for the National Review.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board agreed, saying every person deserves legal representation.
Mr. Bogren confirmed his decision to withdraw to the Detroit News on Tuesday, but declined to comment further, the newspaper reported.
Margot Cleveland, an adjunct law professor at the University of Notre Dame, tweeted that Mr. Bogren is her cousin and she blasted those who opposed his nomination.
“It is unjust to use Mike’s legal advocacy to cast him as an anti-Catholic bigot. And, in fact, in another case he defended a Methodist resort in its efforts to maintain its Christian character against attacks,” Ms. Cleveland told The Washington Times.
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