WASHINGTON, D.C., June 12, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Attorney Michael Bogren has withdrawn from consideration to be President Donald Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship for the Western District of Michigan, following conservative objections to his role in a Michigan religious liberty dispute from 2017.
Last month, freshman Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri grilled Bogren over his handling of the case, which concerned the City of Lansing’s attempts to bar Steve and Bridget Tennes, owners of Country Mill Farms in Charlotte, from its local farmers’ market due to the Christian family farm’s refusal to host same-sex “weddings.”
Representing the city’s efforts to keep the family out, Bogren wrote a brief in 2017 arguing that “discriminatory conduct” being “based on sincerely held religious beliefs does not insulate that conduct from anti-discrimination laws,” noting that members of the Nation of Islam or Ku Klux Klan who opposed interracial marriage “would not be able to … avoid the anti-discrimination provisions of federal, state and local laws that apply to public accommodations if interracial couples were refused service.”
Hawley argued that the remarks demonstrated “impermissible hostility” toward religious beliefs; Bogren defended his remarks as simply explaining that a religious motivation is immaterial to whether an act is discriminatory, and argued he had been duty-bound to zealously defend his client’s (the city’s) position.
“The fact that you stand by these comments is extraordinary to me,” Hawley said. After the freshman Republican’s questioning, numerous conservative groups rallied to oppose Bogren’s confirmation. Longtime conservative leaders including Attorney General Edwin Meese, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, Penny Nance, and Dr. James Dobson signed an open letter declaring that Bogren’s “suspect judicial philosophy as it relates to America’s First Freedom renders him unqualified for this position.”
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina joined Hawley in opposing Bogren, as did conservative groups such as Heritage Action and the Judicial Crisis Network. Other GOP senators, including Judiciary committee chair Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said they were undecided.
Late Tuesday, Bogren requested that the White House withdraw his nomination, the Detroit News reports. He declined to comment publicly on the matter.
“I think it is an unfair situation that has taken legal advocacy and presented it in a very unfair light: Assuming that someone who has been a zealous advocate cannot also hold views contrary to what they are espousing in court,” lamented Margot Cleveland, a conservative writer and adjunct business professor at the University of Notre Dame who is also Bogren’s cousin. She called Bogren an “amazing attorney” with “no anti-religious bias.”
National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru differed, arguing that critics were justified in considering which clients and causes an attorney chooses to take on and noting that Bogren “opposed letting the Catholic Church file a brief in the case, an unusually aggressive move that could be read as suggesting animus”; “gratuitously criticized the plaintiffs for their allegedly selective fidelity to Catholic teaching”; and “misstated the law at issue.”
Bogren isn’t the first Trump judicial nominee to concern social conservatives. Last year, he nominated assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Bumatay and Illinois Magistrate Judge Mary Rowland to the federal bench, both of whom belonged to or worked for LGBT legal organizations that have staked out left-wing stances on LGBT and religious liberty issues. Nevertheless, some on the Right have criticized Hawley for criticizing Trump’s picks.