Rep. Pocan accuses Sen. Johnson of homophobia over brother’s stalled federal court nomination

By: - March 15, 2022 5:16 am
WASHINGTON, DC - Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) asks questions during a House Appropriations Committee hearing (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)

Rep. Mark Pocan (Al Drago | Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat, accused Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of being homophobic after Johnson blocked Pocan’s brother’s nomination to a federal court seat in Green Bay. 

Both Pocan and his brother, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge William Pocan, are gay. In February, Johnson refused to allow William’s nomination to a U.S. District Court seat to move forward in the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Mark Pocan said in a tweet that he’d spent more than a week trying to get Johnson on the phone to discuss William’s stalled nomination and federal funding for a UW-Madison research facility. 

“I just don’t understand why a US Senator wouldn’t return a call from a Member of Congress from his own state — unless it’s because of the increasingly homophobic behavior of [Ron Johnson],” Pocan tweeted. “It’s been a week and the courtesy of a callback has still not happened.”

In a statement to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Johnson’s office denied the charge of homophobia. 

“Any charge or accusation that somehow this is motivated for other reasons than what has been previously stated is a completely false personal attack,” the statement said. “The Senator has always treated the Congressman with respect. Unfortunately, that respect has not been reciprocated as evidenced by a long string of vile social media attacks against the Senator that the Congressman has posted over the last year. The Senator simply does not wish to interact with a person that spreads such malicious poison over a public forum.”

In an interview with the Journal-Sentinel, Pocan pointed to Johnson’s previous opposition to gay marriage, his 2013 vote against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and comments last year saying AIDS was “overhyped” by infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. 

Recommendations for open federal court seats in Wisconsin come from the bipartisan Wisconsin Federal Nominating Commission. In June, Johnson and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin recommended William Pocan and three other judges to fill a vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. 

On the night before Pocan’s confirmation hearing, Johnson withdrew his support for Pocan — effectively killing the nomination because the Senate Judiciary Committee and its chair, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), honor a precedent that allows senators to have a say in judicial nominees in their own state. 

Johnson’s office has said he pulled support because of concerns that Pocan doesn’t have enough ties to the Green Bay area to properly fill the role and previous decisions Pocan has made on defendants’ bail. 

Johnson’s office highlighted a 2015 case in which William Pocan sided with a prosecutor and increased a defendant’s bail to $5,000. Johnson’s office said this amount was too low. 

Wisconsin Republicans have been pushing in recent months to make the state’s bail laws stricter following the Waukesha Christmas parade tragedy in which a man out on a $1,000 bail drove through a crowd.


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.