Progressive groups are banding together in an effort to defeat the judicial nomination of John Bush, a Kentucky attorney who took pot shots at liberals and others while blogging under the pseudonym G. Morris, and once cheered a sign warning vandals who “trespassed and stole my Palin-McCain sign,” that if they do it again, “you will find out what the 2nd Amendment is all about!!!”
Bush, 52, chairs the Louisville chapter of the conservative Federalist Society and is on the list of potential Supreme Court nominees assembled by the conservative Heritage Foundation for then-candidate Donald Trump when he needed to convince evangelicals of his bona fides on abortion rights.
Bush’s credentials as an anti-abortion advocate are front and center in his record as an attorney working with the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, which lists “Right to Life” as one of its areas of litigation, and in his many pseudonymous posts on “Elephants in the Bluegrass,” the blog founded by his wife, Bridget Bush. She’s on the board of Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a “dark money” group that doesn’t disclose its donors and that raised $14 million for fellow Kentuckian and Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection.
Writing as G. Morris, Bush equated abortion with slavery as the “two greatest tragedies in our country.” He called the effort to find an alternative to embryonic stem cell research a “liberal pet peeve.” And when he thought the Affordable Care Act wouldn’t pass, he cheered: “The witch is dead.”
An unabashed Trump supporter, he ripped Ted Cruz, who sits on the judiciary committee, as a “sore loser” during the campaign and wrote from the Republican National Convention about whether Hillary Clinton would look better in black stripes or orange.
Bush disclosed his online identity on the questionnaire judicial nominees submit to the Senate Judiciary Committee. His comments there are the sort that have traditionally concerned senators, and his blogging life is likely to dominate Wednesday’s hearing as he contends for a lifetime seat on the Sixth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, states expected to generate a number of court cases related to reproductive freedom.
One law out of Ohio that would defund Planned Parenthood is currently before the Sixth Circuit, underscoring the immediacy of the challenge for progressives trying to stop the tidal wave of Trump judges queuing up for confirmation on Capitol Hill.
Kaylie Hanson Long of NARAL pointed to Neil Gorsuch’s elevation from the 10th Circuit to the Supreme Court to argue that Democrats don’t take lower court nominations seriously enough. The group aims to raise Bush’s profile so the senators voting and the public at large know what they’re getting, particularly since — outside of his blog posts — he doesn’t have much of a record or paper trail on issues of reproductive rights.
In a call with reporters organized by the Alliance for Justice, Kristine Lucius with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — who until a few months ago had worked for 14 years for Democrat Patrick Leahy on the Senate Judiciary committee — wondered whether Kentucky’s two Republican senators, leader McConnell and Rand Paul, knew about Bush’s secret life as a blogger before approving him.
Also appearing on the witness stand Wednesday morning will be another prolific blogger, Damien Schiff, nominated for a 15-year term on the Federal Claims court. Writing under his own name, he has called Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy a “judicial prostitute” because the Reagan-appointed Kennedy doesn’t always vote with the Court’s conservative bloc. “It would be wonderful for reporters to ask (senators) if they believe Kennedy is a judicial prostitute, and if not, how can they justify a vote for Damien Schiff,” Nan Aron said at the conclusion of the call with reporters.
More than a dozen progressive groups are working against Bush and Schiff, and they span the full range of causes from money in politics to the environment, racial justice, LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom. It’s the same coalition that NARAL organized to work against Gorsuch. They lobbied effectively for Democrats to filibuster his confirmation even while knowing their unyielding opposition would prompt McConnell to invoke the so-called nuclear option, and end the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.
In the odd way that Washington works, liberal groups see it as a victory that they forced McConnell to “cheat” and change the rules to secure Gorsuch’s confirmation. In much the same way, NARAL and other groups see Wednesday’s hearing as a chance to educate the American people as to what’s at stake, even if they can’t stop the nominations from going forward. If Republicans don’t lose more than two votes on their side, they can pass every nominee with a bare majority.
In the current political climate, where Democrats are outnumbered, making a lot of noise is about the only tool progressives have. Wednesday’s hearing is a chance to get the public’s attention, and NARAL and the other groups will be grabbing for headlines as best they can.