Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Ted Cruz (Texas), both Republicans and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposed the nomination of Michael Bogren to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. President Donald Trump nominated Bogren to the court on March 11, 2019, and the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the nomination on May 22.
During the committee hearing, Hawley asked Bogren about litigation representing the city of East Lansing, Michigan. Steve and Bridget Tennes, the owners of Country Mill Farms, sued East Lansing after the city barred them from participating in the city-run farmers market. The city barred the farm after Steve Tennes wrote on Facebook that he believed “marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman” and “he honors his religious belief when hosting and participating in weddings at Country Mill.” Bogren represented East Lansing in the litigation.
Hawley said Bogren “compared a Catholic family’s adherence to the teachings of their church to the activities of the KKK and the teachings of radical imams.” Bogren responded, “Respectfully, that is not what I said. […] 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 sort of discrimination, whether it be gender or race.”
Hawley also published an op-ed for National Review where he wrote that Bogren’s “hostility toward [the Catholic family’s] faith raises questions about his fitness to be a federal judge. … It’s one thing to advocate on behalf of your client, but Bogren went too far.”
Sen. Cruz agreed with Hawley in a tweet: “The nominee didn’t just represent a client; at his confirmation, he affirmatively declared ‘there is no distinction’ [between] Catholic teachings and KKK bigotry. I’m a NO. And POTUS should withdraw the nomination.”
Writing in support of Bogren, Margot Cleveland, a contributor for The Federalist and Bogren’s cousin, said Bogren “is not anti-Catholic. … Conservatives using Bogren’s clients and zealous representation of their legal interests to scuttle a nomination aren’t thinking this through.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial board also argued in favor of Bogren. “Mr. Hawley’s questioning is a precedent that conservatives will regret,” the Journal editorial board wrote. “If nominees can be disqualified for every argument they make for a client, conservative judicial nominees will soon find themselves blocked from judgeships for defending religious liberty.”
Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats from Michigan, negotiated with the White House regarding the nomination. Stabenow said after the nomination was announced, “Today’s announcement is welcome news following months of bipartisan discussions with the White House. I look forward to the Senate Judiciary Committee considering these nominees.”
The United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan is one of 94 U.S. district courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.