The abrupt withdrawal of an Oregon nominee to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has defined the limits of the Trump administration's and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate's ability to stock the federal judiciary with members of their choosing. The narrowness of the Senate's GOP majority has been revealed, and minority Democrats have shown themselves to be not entirely powerless.

Ryan Bounds, an assistant U.S. attorney in Portland since 2010, was the kind of judicial nominee the Trump administration is looking for. At age 45, he could have remained on the federal bench for decades. Educated at Stanford University and Yale Law School, he has a sterling academic background. And he was recommended to the Trump administration by the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group that has become the clearinghouse for Republican judicial nominees, including Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's choice to fill Anthony Kennedy's vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a student at Stanford, however, Bounds wrote some incendiary commentaries on the subject of multiculturalism and diversity. He has disavowed those writings — or at least his intemperate language in expressing them, which included comparisons to Nazi rallies — but made a fatal error: Bounds did not say anything about that part of his record during hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That led Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden to accuse Bounds of "covering up" potentially embarrassing aspects of his past.

Judicial nominees' home-state senators have customarily held veto power over their confirmation. Wyden and fellow Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, declined to give the Judiciary Committee blue slips indicating their thumbs-up for Bounds. The committee voted 11-10 in Bounds' favor anyway, leading Wyden and Merkley to decry the abandonment of a century-old tradition of deference to the opinions of senators who are presumed to know the strengths and weaknesses of judicial nominees from their states.

Republicans, however, hold only 51 Senate seats — and one of those senators, John McCain of Arizona has a terminal illness and is seldom present to vote. A nominee who has no Democratic supporters can't afford to lose any Republican votes. Wyden and Merkley lobbied their Republican colleagues, and one of them — Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only African-American in the GOP caucus — announced he could not support Bounds. Forty-five minutes later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell canceled a vote on Bounds' confirmation.

This doesn't mean an end to Republicans' practice of stocking the courts with Federalist Society stalwarts. Nor does it restore home-state senators to their previous role in the confirmation process. But it does suggest that the Senate is something other than a rubber stamp for Trump's court picks, and that Democrats can exert influence. At least a shadow of what once was a bipartisan judicial confirmation process remains.