President Donald Trump has nominated former Hawaii state Attorney General Mark Bennett to fill the state’s vacant seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Bennett, who has practiced complex civil and appellate litigation at Honolulu law firm Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher since 2011, was among the nine nominees for federal judgeships announced Monday by the White House.
Bennett didn’t immediately respond to an email message seeking comment. Likewise, press representatives from Hawaii’s senators—Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono—didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Bennett was appointed Hawaii’s attorney general by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle during both her terms and he successfully argued two cases for the state at the U.S. Supreme Court while serving in the position from 2003 to 2010. Prior to his stint as attorney general, he spent a dozen years as a litigator at the Honolulu law firm McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon. Prior to entering private practice, Bennett spent seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Hawaii. He also clerked for former U.S. District Chief Judge Samuel King of Hawaii.
If confirmed, Bennett would fill the seat that opened up when Ninth Circuit Judge Richard Clifton, who sits in Honolulu, took senior status at the end of 2016. Clifton, a moderate who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush, was part of the three-judge panel that unanimously turned back Trump’s first “travel ban” last year. That ruling sparked the president to lash out at the Ninth Circuit on Twitter and at a press conference.
Bennett’s nomination marks Trump’s second attempt to make his mark on the nation’s largest appellate court, which he has repeatedly criticized. In September, Trump nominated Ryan Bounds, an assistant U.S. attorney in Portland and former clerk for Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, to fill the seat left open when O’Scannlain took senior status at the end of 2016.
Oregon’s two Democratic U.S. senators—Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley— had previously said they would block Bounds’ nomination since he was not vetted through their bipartisan judicial selection committee. But on Monday, the senators sent a list of the four candidates their committee had ranked the highest to White House Counsel Donald McGahan, which included Bounds.
Prior to Monday’s letter, Bounds’ nomination had come under scrutiny from liberal advocacy group Alliance for Justice, which issued a report highlighting opinion pieces Bounds wrote while a student at Stanford University that criticized “race-focused” student groups. According to The Oregonian, Bounds, who now chairs the Multnomah Bar Association’s equity, diversity and inclusion committee, wrote an email to committee members apologizing for his “misguided sentiments.” One of the disadvantages of being nominated, Bounds wrote, is “having the ill-considered, tone-deaf, and mortifyingly insensitive pronouncements of one’s youth unearthed and scrutinized.”