Senate Republicans pressed ahead with one of President Trump’s appeals court picks Wednesday despite opposition from both home-state senators, in what Democrats said marks a new low in the GOP’s push to fill the courts with conservative judges.
“Today we are making history — really bad history for this institution,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat and a member of the committee.
But Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, who led the committee, said the home-state courtesy — known in Senate-speak as the “blue slip” process — is meant to guarantee meaningful consultation between senators and the White House on judicial picks, but isn’t an absolute veto.
“If we hear that something is unprecedented — that considering a judge without blue slips is unprecedented — I would encourage folks simply to ask themselves, ‘what about Chairman Ted Kennedy, what about Chairman Joe Biden,’ because both of them did so,” Mr. Cruz said.
Senators traditionally are given the courtesy of a say in nominees from their states through a practice known as the “blue slip.” A returned blue slip signals acquiescence while an unreturned slip has sunk nominations in the past.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has signaled he intends to follow the blue slip tradition for lower-court nominees, but won’t stick to it for appeals court judges, saying as long as the White House attempted to consult with home-state senators, that’s enough.
Mr. Merkley, though, says that never happened on Mr. Bounds‘ nomination.
“The White House didn’t consult with us,” he said on the Senate floor.
Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said the blue slip tradition is particularly fraught when it comes to the 9th Circuit, the country’s largest, which covers the western U.S. California is generally allotted more than half of the 29 judgeships on circuit, which thanks to the blue slip gives the state’s senators extreme power over judges that decide cases for other states too.
“Requiring a positive blue slip at the circuit court level means that two senators from California, a state with admittedly little in common with states like Arizona or Oregon or the six other remaining states in the circuit, can decide the majority of appellate judges for the western half of the country. This practice at the circuit court level of blue slips is different than district court judges,” Mr. Flake said.
Mr. Wyden charged Mr. Bounds withheld controversial writings from his college years from the independent committee that Oregon senators rely on to review judicial picks. Mr. Wyden said the writings revealed disturbing views on sexual assault and certain communities of people.
“An individual up for a lifetime appointment on the federal bench has an obligation to do better than that,” Mr. Wyden said on the chamber floor.
Some of the nominee’s controversial writings included a 1994 column where he claimed racial and sexual minorities are overly sensitive in suspecting discrimination, and another column criticizing Stanford University’s sexual assault policy.
Asked during the hearing about the writings, Mr. Bounds said the columns he wrote while on Stanford University’s campus were overheated and not as respectful as they should have been. He also said he’s since heard from friends in the gay community about instances of discrimination they’ve faced.
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