Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees

Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees
© Getty

The battle between Senate Democrats and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Andrew Wheeler must reverse damage to American heartland Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits MORE (R-Iowa) over the “blue-slip rule” escalated this week, after another one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE’s judicial nominees advanced without the approval of both of their home-state senators

The blue-slip rule — which Democrats describe as a long-running Senate tradition Grassley has taken to ignore — has become a flashpoint for members on the Judiciary Committee. The committee has been tasked with considering the slew of nominees from the Trump administration, many of which have been controversial.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Senate GOP breaks record on confirming Trump picks for key court Deal to fix family separations hits snag in the Senate MORE (D-Calif.), the committee’s top Democrat, said that Grassley’s decision to hold nomination hearings and approve two nominees who lacked a blue slip from a home-state senator marked a landmark change in committee tradition.

Home-state senators have historically been able to block nominees by refusing to return a blue paper of approval to the committee. It’s a courtesy, rather than a formal Senate rule, and whether it’s followed is entirely up to whoever helms the Judiciary Committee — in this case, Grassley.

Last month, David Stras became the first appellate court nominee to be confirmed despite missing a blue slip. Grassley moved his nomination to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals through the committee without the approval of then-Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenControversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws AP Analysis: 25 state lawmakers running in 2018 have been accused of sexual misconduct Franken offers Dems a line of questioning for Kavanaugh's 'weirdly specific bit of bulls---' MORE (D-Minn.). 

Now another judicial nominee is headed to the floor. 

On Thursday, the committee voted 11-10, along party lines, to approve Michael Brennan to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinControversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds MORE (D-Wis.) did not return her blue slip for Brennan because he failed to receive the requisite support from the state’s bipartisan commission that vets potential candidates for federal judgeships. 

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Budget chairs press appropriators on veterans spending Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (D-Vt.) appeared fed up Thursday that another nominee was advancing without both blue slips.  

“This basically says we don’t care which state you represent, you’re irrelevant as senators, we’ll forget the 100 years of senators having involvement,” he said. 

“I hope the senators realize what you’re doing,” he added. 

In a statement Friday, Baldwin said she’s disappointed Grassley endorsed Trump’s decision to disregard the Wisconsin Federal Nominating Commission.

“I fear yesterday’s vote has set a troubling precedent for the Judiciary Committee and the Senate,” she said.  

“Advancing this nomination without my blue slip sends the message to my colleagues that President Trump need not respect their roles as home-state Senators in the selection of judicial nominees.”                    

At Thursday’s hearing, the chairman said the lack of two positive blue slips wouldn’t necessarily prevent a circuit court nominee from receiving a hearing unless the White House failed to consult with home-state senators.

“This has been the policy of all but two of the 18 Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen over the last 100 years that the blue slip has been a practice of this committee,” he said.

“In the case that’s before us, the White House consulted with both Wisconsin senators. The White House considered two candidates suggested by Sen. Baldwin, but the president opted for Judge Brennan. That’s the president’s prerogative under the Constitution.”

The committee noted in an April memo that Leahy and the late Sen. James Eastland (D-Miss.) are the only senators that adhered to a strict two positive blue-slip policy before moving forward on a nominee.

“In fact, Leahy refused to hold hearings on six of George W. Bush’s circuit nominees even though all of them had the support of their home-state senators,” Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said in a statement to The Hill.  

"It’s false to claim that Chairman Grassley is ignoring the blue slip tradition or that home-state senators are irrelevant in that process," he said. "In fact, he has worked closely with many of those home-state senators to ensure adequate consultation." 

Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, called the Democrats’ blue-slip arguments ahistorical nonsense.

ADVERTISEMENT
“There’s no major change here to be concerned about,” she said. “They are trying to weaponize every bit of Senate procedure they can to put the brakes on anything the Senate is trying to do, particularly nominations." 

But Nan Aron, founder and president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, said Republicans are trampling the rights of not only the home-state senators, but also their constituents.

“This is further destruction of the tradition and norms of the Senate and the rights of people who elect their senators in part to have a voice in federal judgeships,” she said. 

And it’s likely to continue. 

Another showdown is looming over Ryan Bounds, Trump’s latest pick for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Oregon Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight House passes measure blocking IRS from revoking churches' tax-exempt status over political activity Senators introduce bipartisan bill to improve IRS MORE (D) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight Controversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Anti-Trump protesters hold candlelight vigil by White House MORE (D) have said they will not return blue slips for Bounds, who is an assistant U.S. attorney in Portland, even though Bounds’s name was forwarded to the White House as one of the finalists for the vacancy.

While a student at Stanford University, Bounds wrote opinion pieces for the student newspaper in which he expressed disdain for “race-focused groups,” according to the Alliance for Justice.