Op Ed: Senators should oppose judicial nominee with a record of incendiary writings

June 7, 2018, 9:30 a.m.

Our nation’s judges are meant to be unbiased arbiters, interpreting the law with an even hand regardless of who is seeking justice in their courtrooms.

But Ninth Circuit nominee Ryan Bounds, selected by President Trump and expected to have a Senate vote in June, has shown disdain for the concerns of people of color and other marginalized communities. His past incendiary writings raise enormous red flags about his fitness to serve as a judge in our diverse and multiracial society.

Writing for the Stanford Review as an undergraduate, Bounds—a white man—dismissed the experiences of students of color and derided their campus organizing efforts. In one column, he wrote that the “strategies that some of the more strident racial factions of the student body employ in their attempts to ‘heighten consciousness,’ ‘build tolerance,’ [and] ‘promote diversity’…seem always to contribute more to restricting consciousness, aggravating intolerance, and pigeonholing cultural identities than many a Nazi bookburning.” He characterized the work of some student of color groups as “feel-good ethnic hoedowns,” charging that their “protests, whinings,” and other activities were steeped in “paranoia” with “obviously delusional underpinnings.”

It should go without saying, but students of color coming together to support each other and advocate on their campus is based on very real lived experiences in a society that systematically discriminates against them—not delusional whining. Comparing the effects of this advocacy to that of “Nazi bookburning” is especially abhorrent. Coming from someone who has never experienced the harms of racism himself, it’s hard to imagine a more degrading characterization.

As a Stanford alumna who served on the staff of Casa Zapata, an ethnic theme dorm, and as a participant of the El Centro Chicano student center—all just seven years after Bounds was writing his columns—I saw firsthand the importance of these types of student groups on campus.

There’s more: In another column titled “Lo! A Pestilence Stalks Us,” focused on activism by gay students and students of color, Bounds warned that “the idol of Sensitivity…threatens to corrupt our scholastic experience and tear our student community asunder.” In Bounds’ worldview, apparently the real threat is not anti-LGBTQ vitriol or racism, but “sensitivity.”

In a third piece, Bounds dismissed the arguments of sexual assault advocates on campus. He concluded that “there is nothing that the University can do to objectively ensure that the rapist does not strike again,” claiming that “[e]xpelling students is probably not going to contribute a great deal toward a rape victim’s recovery” anyway.

Bounds’ lack of regard for—and, in some cases, open derision of—the concerns of marginalized students shows a disturbing unwillingness to think outside of his own experiences and grapple with the realities of harmful social forces like racism. As People For the American Way’s Paul Gordon recently noted, “When judges are blind to it, the consequences can be devastating—even fatal, in the criminal justice context.”

During his Senate hearing, Bounds apologized for the “tone” of his columns, though, importantly, not for the substance. He said the intention behind his writing was to seek “greater tolerance and mutual understanding on campus” and “a way of celebrating diversity,” a laughable notion after reading the columns.

Given the existence of these writings, how could people of all backgrounds—like the wonderfully diverse members of the Stanford University community—feel confident that they would get a fair hearing in Bounds’ courtroom?

Unfortunately, Senate Republican leadership appears to be moving forward with his vote, despite the fact that both of Bounds’ home-state senators oppose his nomination—a breach of a 100-year-old Senate tradition.

This brand of hostility and disrespect didn’t belong at Stanford and it doesn’t belong in our nation’s courts. Senators should vote against Ryan Bounds’ confirmation and instead support fair-minded judges who we can be confident will uphold the fundamental rights of all Americans.

Lizet Ocampo is political director of People For the American Way in Washington, D.C. and a 2006 graduate of Stanford University and Stanford University Graduate School of Education.

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