Controversial Federal Judge Nominee John Bush Confirmed

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The United States Senate just confirmed John Kenneth Bush’s nomination to serve as a judge on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 51-47 vote (along party lines with John McCain not voting due to his recent surgery) demonstrates the continuing partisan divide in Congress and the lengths Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will go to exert influence.

From its beginning, Bush’s nomination raised red flags based not only on his financial connections but also his history of peddling falsehoods writing under a pseudonym on his wife’s conservative blog.

While the former is more disconcerting, the latter captured the nation’s attention in discussing Bush’s fitness to serve as a federal judge.

BACKGROUND

Quartz originally reported on Bush’s writing history last month noting:

For nearly a decade he contributed regularly to Elephants in the Bluegrass, a political blog run by his wife, under the pen name G. Morris. In posts, he drew a tenuous parallel between Barack Obama and Monica Lewinsky and equated slavery to abortion as two of America’s greatest tragedies.

Elephants in the Bluegrass

While blogging, he consistently cited WorldNetDaily, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed an extremist group for peddling conspiracy theories and white nationalism, including the lie that Obama was not born in the United States. During his Senate hearing, Bush said he “made some posts that I, today, would not do.”

Despite these leanings—and in one case, potentially because of them—Bush succeeded in being placed on the bench. Commenting on Bush’s penchant for citing falsehoods and propagating conspiracy theories, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley argued, “Democrats certainly set the standard that prolific bloggers who write with no holds barred are certainly eligible to be judges.”

He added, “I don’t think we should change that standard now.”

Those writings offer insight into Bush’s thinking process as he becomes a judge on the 6th Circuit.

CONTENT

Both watchdog and civil rights advocacy groups across the nation monitored Bush’s nomination closely while digging into his history to discern what type of judge he would be if confirmed.

Alliance for Justice (AJC) – a progressive judicial advocacy group that opposed the nomination – offered a detailed analysis of Bush’s writing history urging Senators to vote against confirmation. They said:

While Bush pontificates on a broad swath of issues, one common theme runs throughout his writings: Bush displays a remarkable contempt for any issue he deems liberal or progressive, often launching into personal attacks on individuals he disagrees with. Bush’s writings should disqualify him for a lifetime seat on the federal bench for two reasons. First, Bush’s writings raise serious concerns about whether, as a judge, he will be able to approach the issues presented to him with an open mind, applying the law to the facts of the case without regard to his personal ideology. Second, Bush’s distasteful rhetoric demonstrates that he lacks the judicial temperament necessary to serve as a federal judge.

This topic came up in the nomination hearing when Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) asked Bush about being impartial.

“Do you think that impartiality is an aspiration or an absolute expectation?” Senator Tillis asked Bush.

Bush responded, “[i]t is an aspiration. I will do my best to be impartial.”

Tillis, unsatisfied with Bush’s answer, replied, “I actually have a concern with someone who thinks impartiality is an aspiration. I think it’s an expectation.”

That didn’t dissuade Senator Tillis from voting in favor of Bush’s nomination, however.

During that same round of questioning from Senators, Bush additionally refused to back down on his abortion-slavery comparison when asked by Senators Feinstein and Durbin.

Perhaps more egregiously, when confronted with his placement of politics over law and policy, Bush didn’t appear to show remorse. Some examples of those moments include:

  • Refusal to back down when questioned about his disagreement with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in New York Times v. Sullivan (where he originally stated the decision “probably wasn’t correctly decided.”). That case established the ‘actual malice’ standard for press when reporting on public officials. It set a higher bar for claims of defamation and libel that allows media outlets leeway in reporting on news with public interest value.
  • In a brief he wrote for Mitch McConnell, Bush mischaracterized the legal standards used for campaign contributions. Bush’s brief pushed for the increase of dark money in elections. Bush would not acknowledge this during the hearing.
  • In a speech to a private Louisville club, Bush once said, “I come here every year, and let me tell you one thing I’ve learned—this is no town to be giving people the impression you’re some kind of faggot.” He apologized belatedly for that remark during the hearing. That said, he did not address or apologize for any of his other previous anti-LGBTQ statements including an opinion on a Kentucky Supreme Court decision he claims “immunized consensual sodomy from criminal prosecution” and a scathing anti-LGBTQ blog post criticizing the State Department for assisting same-sex parents.

That’s a mere sampling of Bush’s problematic nature in becoming a federal judge. Some of Bush’s work that didn’t make the hearing (but deserves public scrutiny) includes:

  • Baring My Pre-Convention Thoughts: In this 2016 RNC Convention live blog, Bush argued that the Democratic Party only pushed Hillary Clinton’s nomination because she is a woman. He rationalized this by arguing they’d done the same thing with Barack Obama as the first African-American in 2008.
  • Take That!: In this brief October 2008 entry, Bush blamed Obama supporters for stealing his McCain-Palin lawn sign and threatened, “Do it again and you will find out what the 2nd Amendment is all about!!!”
  • Don’t Let The Door “HIT” American Taxpayers on Obama’s Way Out: In this piece, Bush argued against the very existence of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – more commonly known as Obamacare.

While any Democratic candidate for the federal bench would have been immediately flagged and voted down, Bush sailed through the nomination process with a brief hearing (one he shared with another nominee) earning the GOP’s seal of approval. That approval may have been preordained, taking the money trail behind Bush’s ascent to the bench into consideration.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Outside of volunteering on Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaigns in 2008 and 2014, Bush personally expressed interest to McConnell in becoming a judge. This is all outlined in his questionnaire. What isn’t outlined, however, is his family’s financial connections to McConnell.

John Bush’s wife Bridget sits on the board of a 501(c)(4) organization that helped to raise $14 million for McConnell’s re-election. AFJ outlined this in their brief summarizing Bush’s background:

Bush’s wife, Bridget Bush, who is also an attorney in Louisville, served on the board of directors of the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition. The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is a 501(c) (4) organization that played a pivotal role in aiding Senator Mitch McConnell’s reelection bid in 2014. The group raised over $14 million during the course of the campaign, spending over $7 million on expenditures expressly advocating for McConnell. According to a news report at the time, “[c]ampaign finance reformers say the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is the epitome of ‘dark money’ nonprofit groups that have little or nothing to do with promoting social welfare, as their IRS designation would suggest.”

Despite red flags throughout his writing history and answers in his nomination hearing that would disqualify other candidates not tied to the Senate Majority Leader, Bush received unanimous support from Senate Republicans in his nomination to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. He is the fourth Trump judicial nominee to receive confirmation. Once seated, he will hear cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

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Tim Peacock is a lifelong writer and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBTQ advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. He also manages a news analysis blog (Peacock Panache) that focuses on civil rights, LGBTQ issues, church/state & atheism issues, women’s rights, and politics. You can learn more about him at his personal website: http://tpeacock.com