McConnell: Blue slips shouldn't 'blackball' circuit court nominees
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFormer Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Dem says marijuana banking bill will get House vote this spring MORE (R-Ky.) is weighing in on a looming fight over judicial nominees, saying an obscure Senate rule shouldn't be used to block some judicial nominations. 

“My personal view is that the blue slip, with regard to circuit court appointments, ought to simply be a notification of how you’re going to vote, not the opportunity to blackball,” McConnell told The New York Times. 
The Senate's "blue slip" practice — which isn't a rule but a tradition enforced by the Judiciary Committee chairman — allows home-state senators to sign off on a judicial nominee on actual blue slips of paper before the committee holds a nomination hearing. 
By not returning the paper, the senators can effectively block a nominee. 
McConnell added that he supports continuing the blue slip rule for district court nominees, whose decisions can be overturned by circuit court judges. 
Republicans have talked for months about narrowing the blue slip rule to exclude circuit court judges, who have jurisdiction over several states. 
But the fight is increasingly in the spotlight as Democratic senators are warning they will not return blue slips on a growing number of Trump's court nominees. 
Oregon Democratic Sens. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Long-shot goal of nixing Electoral College picks up steam MORE and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech MORE announced they would try to block Ryan Bounds, nominated for the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, “or any other nominee that has not been selected through our judicial process.”
And Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D) will oppose David Stras, President Trump’s nominee to serve on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 
Senate Democrats eliminated the 60-vote filibuster for lower-court judicial nominees in 2013, leaving the blue-slip tradition the only way for senators to veto controversial nominees.
Republicans used blue-slip objections to block several of President Obama’s nominees. But they're now under intense pressure from conservatives to get rid of the precedent so they can place Trump's picks on the courts. 
Republicans did away with the 60-vote procedural threshold for Supreme Court nominees earlier this year. 
Democrats, however, are warning Republicans against eliminating the precedent, noting they could be back in the minority and powerless to block judicial nominations they are opposed to.