Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said Thursday that he will honor the Senate’s “blue slip” tradition for district court judges but not for appeals court nominees, giving Democrats a limited veto over President Trump’s judicial picks.
Mr. Graham said he is taking heat from some on the right for allowing an effective veto for the lower judges, but said it’s important that home-state senators continue to have some say in who gets picked for courts that operate completely within their boundaries.
“When it comes to district court judges, nobody is going forward unless we get consent from senators from that state,” said Mr. Graham, who took over the gavel this year. But he said he won’t allow Democrats to stymie a president’s picks to the appeals courts, where many big legal decisions are made.
What he did promise was attempts to forge agreements between senators and the White House as often as possible.
Mr. Graham’s announcement came during the committee’s first business meeting of the new Congress.
The panel approved 34 new district judges and six appellate court nominees, sending them to the Senate floor over the objections of Democrats and liberal activists who said voting on such a large slate of judges amounted to rubber-stamping Mr. Trump’s picks.
Some of the judges had cleared committee last year but were sent back to committee at the end of the last Congress. Others had hearings but never received an initial committee vote.
Now that the nominations are ready for floor action, they create an opportunity — and a challenge — for Republican leaders, who must decide whether to trigger the “nuclear option” to reinterpret Senate rules and curtail the amount of time it takes to confirm them.
Under the current rules, even once a filibuster is surmounted, it can take up to 30 hours of additional floor time to approve a nominee. That means the Senate can, at best, approve about five nominees a week — and that assumes no other major floor action on bills.
Some Republicans want to limit debate on lower court and executive branch picks to two hours, speeding up the process.
Democrats, who six years ago supported less time for President Barack Obama’s nominees, now oppose it under Mr. Trump.
They also complained Thursday about Mr. Graham’s blue slip policy, saying he was giving Mr. Trump even more power to stock the courts.
Blue slips are meant to facilitate the “advice” part of the “advice and consent” powers the Constitution gives senators over presidential nominations. Senators are asked to return blue slips to signify their acquiescence in judicial picks.
Over the years, different chairmen have treated blue slips differently — though Republicans said only in rare cases have they been allowed to be used as an absolute veto.
Democrats, left with a toothless filibuster after they eviscerated that process in a 2013 vote, complained that they have no options available to block presidential picks they don’t like.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said the blue slip process preserves a longstanding tradition that appeals court seats are assigned to each state.
“We haven’t thought this through, because we’re so eager to move these judges we’re willing to break down the blue slip. But if you’ve got no blue slip, you’ve got nothing that says that there’s such a thing as your home state seat on your circuit,” the Rhode Island Democrat said.
Mr. Graham said that’s essentially right — and he blamed Democrats for creating that situation by triggering the “nuclear option” to defang the filibuster in 2013.
“Everything you said is true. It’s going to get worse over time,” Mr. Graham said. “The day that you dealt yourself out as a minority to have a say about who gets on the court was the day everything changed.”
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