Senate Democrats have one last weapon to stymie President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees — though Republicans are poised to diminish that leverage.
Senators representing states where judicial vacancies exist submit an opinion or a “blue slip” giving a positive or negative evaluation of a nominee named to that vacancy. As a general matter, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary will not convene a hearing for a nominee until the relevant senators submit their blue slips, effectively giving home state senators veto power over judicial nominations to positions in their states.
Heretofore, GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has expressed support for maintaining the blue slip tradition, as have other committee Republicans. However, Grassley qualified his position during an interview on CSPAN this week, suggesting blue slips are not always relevant to certain nominations.
“I think the blue slip is more respected for district court judges historically than it has been for circuit,” Grassley said. “It’s much more a White House decision on circuit judges than the district court judges. I mean this is going to be an individual case-by-case decision, but it leads me to say that there’s going to have to be a less strict use or obligation to the blue slip policy for circuit, because that’s the way it’s been.”
While the jurisdiction of a district court is limited to a single state, circuit courts span multiple states, making each circuit court nomination relevant to a large group of lawmakers. A district court is a trial court, while a circuit court is an appeals court.
The Trump administration has announced the selection of almost a dozen nominees to vacant judgeships around the country. At least three of these nominees — Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras, and attorney David Porter — are likely to draw vetoes from Democratic senators in those respective states.
Grassley went on to stress that he believes a collaborative judicial selection process will allow for a steady clip of confirmations and that he would consider the extent of consultations between the White House and the relevant senators in deciding how much weight to give a blue slip.
“I think it’s very important that the White House work very closely with senators, both Republican and Democrat, but particularly those states where they have two Democratic senators,” he said.
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