The Senate blue slip process was established more than a hundred years ago to ensure that home-state senators have an opportunity to weigh in on federal judicial nominees from their state. Some senators consult with bipartisan nominating committees in their states, making the blue slip process a vetting mechanism with feedback from the states. An informal process and a Senate tradition not mandated by law, the blue slip practice can facilitate the Senators’ fulfillment of their constitutional power to give “advice and consent” on federal judicial appointments.
In 2017, however, with the start of the Trump presidency and Republican control of Congress, there were ominous signs that Senate Republicans would bow to demands from the President and right-wing backers to ignore the blue slip tradition. Bypassing the blue slip process makes it easier for Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate to appoint judges who are so extreme that they never would have received a hearing in past administrations. These judgeships are lifetime appointments, and a single federal judge may influence our laws for decades.
Since the end of 2017, the Senate Judiciary Committee has held hearings for nominees who have not received blue slip approvals from both their home-state senators. In February 2018 the Committee voted to approve a non-blue-slipped nominee (Michael Brennan) along party lines. This action sent the Brennan nomination to the full Senate for a final vote. Under the blue slip tradition, a nominee would not receive a hearing by the Committee, let alone a vote.
This break from bipartisanship is the decision of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chair of the Judiciary Committee, who has succumbed to pressure from Trump and the Senate majority leader, Senator McConnell (R-Ky). However, all other Republicans on the Committee share responsibility. They have all shown a willingness to rubber stamp Trump’s nominees and disregard the blue slip process when it applies to Democratic senators.
Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) explains why the blue slip process is an important feedback loop through the states to vet and approve federal judges. See the video clip.
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