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Attorney blames Hawley’s ‘utterly untrue’ attacks for sinking court nomination

Sen. Josh Hawley’s questioning of Michigan attorney Michael Bogren helped sink his nomination for the federal bench.
Sen. Josh Hawley’s questioning of Michigan attorney Michael Bogren helped sink his nomination for the federal bench. The New York Times

A Michigan attorney blamed Sen Josh Hawley and others for mischaracterizing his legal arguments for his decision to withdraw from consideration for a seat on the federal bench.

Hawley, R-Missouri, accused Michael Bogren of comparing a Catholic family to the Ku Klux Klan in his legal defense of the City of East Lansing in a lawsuit brought by a Catholic couple after their business had been found in violation of a city ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination.

Bogren did not specifically refer to Hawley in a fiery public statement Wednesday. But his comments appeared aimed at the Missouri Republican, who first raised the issue.

“The claim is I compared Catholics to the KKK,” Bogren said in a statement Wednesday. “That claim is utterly untrue. What I argued on behalf of my client is the First Amendment does not create an exception to anti-discrimination laws based on religious beliefs – whatever those religious beliefs might be. It was not my intention to compare Catholics to the KKK, and the brief cannot be fairly read as doing so.”

Bogren, tapped by President Donald Trump to fill a federal court vacancy in Michigan, said he withdrew from consideration after being informed by Senate Judiciary Committee staff that he had no path to confirmation.

Bogren had argued that a member of the KKK who owned a similar business could not invoke religious freedom to refuse to serve African Americans. Hawley and others said with this argument Bogren was treating Catholics as equivalent to the KKK.

Hawley’s questioning of Bogren set off a media firestorm and caused other Republicans to come out against his nomination.

“My family had to witness an unfounded personal attack on me, as well as ensuing personal attacks in the media. It is truly unfortunate that what used to be a dignified process has sunk to this level,” Bogren said.

Hawley said Tuesday that he had given Bogren multiple opportunities to walk back his statements in the case and that his objection was the way Bogren litigated the case rather than his decision to take the case itself.

“He could have given a vigorous defense to his client without stooping to calling this Catholic family equivalent to members of the KKK, comparing them to radical Islamic jihadists,” Hawley said Tuesday.

Bogren appeared to respond directly to these comments Wednesday.

“Some have said that it is not my representation of East Lansing that was the problem, but the manner in which I argued the city’s position. Any ethical lawyer knows that is a distinction without a difference,” Bogren said.

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