To: Editorial Boards and Interested Parties
From: Drew Courtney, Vice President for Communications and Research, People For the American Way
Date: February 13, 2018
Re: Senator Chuck Grassley Destroys An Important Senate Tradition
This Thursday in Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee will convene to vote on a slate of individuals nominated to lifetime seats on the federal judiciary.
As in past weeks, the nominees before the committee represent a part of a sea change in the makeup of our federal courts as Donald Trump and his allies push forward the confirmation of narrow-minded elitists intent on moving the courts drastically to the right.
But unlike other weeks, this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee vote will transform the Senate in lasting ways.
As PFAW’s Paul Gordon explained last week, Senator Chuck Grassley’s decision to move forward on the nomination on Michael Brennan for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals represents a profound undermining of a longstanding Senate practice: the blue slip.
Blue slips developed more than a century ago, allowing home state senators the ability to prevent the Senate Judiciary Committee from moving forward on nominees to seats in their own states. Though little known, the tool has been an essential component of the “checks and balances” that limit the power of the president and the majority party in Congress and encourage high quality nominees from presidents of both parties.
At a time when President Trump seems intent on pushing extreme and unqualified nominees to the federal bench, now is not the time to be removing checks and balances from our system.
Moreover, Republicans who support President Trump’s nominees should be concerned about the end of the blue slip process. That’s because the blue slip exists to make sure that senators are ensured a voice in selecting jurists who are right for their own state. More than the White House or Senate leadership, individual senators are connected with the legal communities in their own states; the blue slip process has helped ensure that judicial nominees are individuals who are widely respected within the entire legal community—not simply political cronies of the president in the White House at that time.
The blue slip process was scrupulously adhered to throughout the Obama administration by Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen of both parties. There were no exceptions to the rule that a judicial nominee would not be moved through committee unless he or she had two positive blue slips. The result was that a large number of Obama nominees never received a hearing, leaving empty seats for the Trump administration to try to fill. Now that a president of his own party is making the nominations, Chairman Grassley is changing the rules of the game so that he can advance a political agenda, to the detriment of Senate tradition and the ability of our federal judiciary to be fair and unbiased.
We urge you to make sure your readers understand the important change happening in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.