Editorial: Trump judicial nominee, Michigan lawyer, victim of sleazy GOP hit job

The Detroit News
Attorney Michael S. Bogren

There are plenty of good reasons to oppose a nominee to the federal court bench. Effectiveness in representing a client should not be one of them. 

President Donald Trump hoped to continue his admirable streak of filling federal judicial openings with competent, respected jurists when he named attorney Michael Bogren to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Bogren is a conservative with an impressive career as an attorney. His name was forwarded by a bipartisan search committee and was endorsed by both of Michigan's Democratic senators, not an easy get these days for a Republican nominee.

But his confirmation was derailed by a GOP senator who objected to Bogren's vigorous defense of a client, the city of East Lansing, against a charge of religious discrimination. The suit was brought by a Catholic farmer who was barred from the city's open-air market because he voiced his opposition to gay marriage, saying he wouldn't host a gay wedding on his farm if asked.

We supported the farmer's position, on the grounds that he should not be required to abandon his religious beliefs to sell vegetables in a public market. Those who objected to his stance could simply walk by his stand.  

Bogren argued in the case that, "there can be no constitutionally sound argument that sincerely held religious beliefs would permit a secular business to avoid the prohibitions against racial discrimination or gender discrimination found in federal, state and local laws.”

He added that if a Ku Klux Klan member who opposed interracial marriage did what the farmer did, he would not be able to invoke the First Amendment to avoid anti-discrimination statutes. 

It was a good defense. 

But his remarks were seized upon by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, and other GOP senators and twisted to imply that Bogren was lumping Catholics into the same category as Klansmen. Religious groups flooded the White House with protest letters, and this week Bogren withdrew his name from consideration.

Bogren is the victim of a sleazy character attack. He is not anti-Catholic. He was simply doing his job as the ethics rules governing lawyers require — "zealously advocate the client's best interest."

Hawley is apparently unfamiliar with John Adams. America's second president took grief for representing the British soldiers who carried out the Boston massacre in 1770, but that didn't keep him from assuming his role as a Founding Father and leader of the independence movement.

Hawley's motives may not be entirely pure. The Missouri senator has a long association with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the group that is supporting the farmer in the case, and was a paid speaker at one of their events when he was a law professor.

Applying political litmus tests to judicial nominees is something Democrats do. Republicans should know better. That they did it to one of their own is particularly offensive. 

Bogren was an excellent pick made by a Republican president who may not have much time left to put his stamp on the federal courts. Neither Bogren nor Trump should have been treated this way.