Washington D.C. – Abuse of the Senate “blue slip” tradition is creating two separate and unequal systems of justice in United States federal district courts and must be halted, according to a new report, “One Nation, Two Systems of Justice: Why It’s Time to Reform the Blue Slip Practice” by People For the American Way.
To restore a fair nominations process and to allow the court system to function, the report concludes that blue slip reform is necessary. Blue slip reform will improve both access to justice and the quality of justice in district courts.
The report details how Republican senators have used a strategy of withholding blue slips on judicial nominees from their home states, scuttling nominations by Democratic presidents and maintaining conservative control of courts. The repeated abuse of that has prevented numerous Black judges from being seated on federal district courts in red states. This has also resulted in widespread judicial vacancies in red states, with the risk that the justice system in those states will grind to a halt. The report notes that five southern states, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas, have been especially hard hit.
“We can’t have two systems of justice in this country, one for red states and one for blue states,” said Svante Myrick, president of People For the American Way. “The Senate blue slip unfortunately is one of those traditions that has been corrupted and co-opted by the Far Right, to be used in ways that are discriminatory. It was a tradition that we supported for a long time. But we have to face facts; it is no longer serving the interests of equal justice.”
“President Biden and the Democratic Senate deserve enormous credit for the more than 100 diverse, highly credentialed federal judges they have put on the bench,” said Paul Gordon, senior legislative counsel at People For the American Way and a co-author of the report. “At the same time, it’s stunning to note that nearly all of these judges are in states with two Democratic senators. The only red-state district judge confirmed so far was in Iowa. By withholding blue slips, red-state senators are forcing district courts in their states to function without their full complement of judges. And people in those states are too often denied full access to their legal rights.”
“District courts handle the vast majority of cases in the federal court system, and rulings there can have effects on the entire country,” said Elliot Mincberg, senior fellow at People For the American Way and a co-author of the report. “This means far-right senators determined to keep President Biden from filling seats on the bench in their home states can end up controlling and limiting rights for millions of Americans. This is why it’s so important to rebalance courts in those states, and that won’t happen until we reform the blue slip.”
The report notes that the blue slip is an old tradition, in which senators are given the courtesy of providing feedback on judicial nominees from their home states. Senators return a blue slip of paper to the Judiciary Committee chair noting their support or opposition. In recent years, committee chairs have not held a hearing on a district court nominee unless they are supported by both home state senators. That means that withholding a positive blue slip can work as an absolute veto of a nominee – but that has not always been the case. In past years, blue slips have been used to open a dialog about a nominee while the chair reserves the right to proceed with a hearing.
As the report points out, the same Republican stonewalling via blue slip took place in the Obama administration. The report also explains that during the Trump administration, Republican abuse of the judicial confirmation process continued in other ways. Those included pushing through the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch for a seat that was artificially held open at the end of Obama’s term, and forcing through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination while the presidential election was already under way.
Read the full report here: Why It’s Time to Reform the Blue Slip Process – People For
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About People For the American Way
People For the American Way, a national progressive advocacy organization, inspires and mobilizes community and cultural leaders to advance Truth, Justice and the American Way. We convene courageous Americans, produce compelling media and organize campaigns to defend our democracy from authoritarian threats and advance America’s promise that everyone will enjoy freedom, safety and a vote that counts. Learn more: https://www.pfaw.org