Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer put pressure Wednesday on the GOP chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to retain the “blue slip” process that could give Democrats a path to scuttle some of the president’s judicial nominees.
Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, told Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the chairman, to resist calls to de-prioritize the blue slip process — including suggestions from the Senate’s top Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell.
“The Senate has fewer and fewer mechanisms that create bipartisanship and bring people to an agreement. The blue slips are one of them,” said Mr. Schumer in a press release on Wednesday.
Under a Senate tradition, unless both home-state senators return their blue slips signaling acquiescence, the Senate Judiciary Committee usually won’t proceed with a nomination.
The tradition is intended to encourage home-state consultation, but it has become a sort of soft filibuster for both parties, who have used it to stymie nominees of presidents of both parties.
“My personal view is that the blue slip, with regard to circuit court appointments, ought to simply be a notification of how you’re going to vote, not the opportunity to blackball,” Mr. McConnell said last month about the practice.
The pressure has been building on the Majority Leader as conservative advocacy groups, such as the the Judicial Crisis Network, have been lobbying him to move more of President Trump’s judge’s though the Senate. Mr. Trump entered office with a record number of federal court vacancies, which has risen during his first nine months in office.
Mr. Schumer said Mr. McConnell’s suggestion to abandon the tradition for circuit court judges is a shame.
“We hope that Chairman Grassley, who has always believed in the traditions of the Senate, will resist Senator McConnell’s request,” Mr. Schumer said.
The top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, joined Mr. Schumer in putting pressure on Mr. Grassley, pointing out that Mr. McConnell used the blue slip tradition himself in 2016 to block one of then-President Barack Obama’s lower court judges.
“While Leader McConnell has now reversed his position on the blue slip, it’s important to remember that the decision about whether to continue to honor the process is not his alone,” Ms. Feinstein said in a press release on Wednesday. “If Republicans pursue this path and eliminate the blue slip, the genie won’t be put back in the bottle. This change could affect them as well.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said while he chaired the Judiciary Committee from 2001 to 2003 and 2007 to 2015, he maintained the blue slip process for both district and circuit court nominees even when facing pressure within his own party to do away with it.
“Chairman Grassley has told me he will respect the blue slip tradition, just as I did. I trust him to keep his word,” Mr. Leahy said.
The dispute over blue slip tradition recently heated up when Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, said he wouldn’t return his blue slip for Mr. Trump’s nominee Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Shortly after that, both of Oregon’s Democratic senators said they won’t return their blue slips either for another one of the president’s circuit court picks.
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