Senate reignites blue slip war over Trump court picks

The Senate is set to escalate a long simmering fight over President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE's judicial nominees.

Republicans are poised to confirm a pick for the influential circuit courts next week without the support of either of the nominee's home-state senators — a first for the Trump era.

Eric Miller is the first appeals judge to get a vote on the Senate floor this year, and the 31st of Trump’s presidency. Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment CNN's Cuomo promotes 'Dirty Donald' hashtag, hits GOP for 'loyalty oath' to Trump MORE (R-Ky.) set up an initial vote on his 9th Circuit nomination for Monday evening.

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“The judicial train is running in the committee and it will soon hit the floor,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Graham invites Giuliani to testify about recent Ukraine trip MORE (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Miller’s nomination is set to revive a feud over “blue slips,” a paper that indicates if a home-state senator supports a nomination.

Though the Senate confirmed several appeals judges who were missing one blue slip last year, Miller would be the first circuit court nominee to be confirmed without getting a blue slip from either senator.

Democrats argue Republicans are trying to defang the minority by moving nominees even if they don’t have the support of a home-state senator.

Spokespeople for Sens. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills MORE (D-Wash.), a member of Democratic leadership, and Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellLet's enact a privacy law that advances economic justice There's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware MORE (D-Wash.) confirmed to The Hill on Friday that they did not return a blue slip on Miller’s nomination.

Murray first announced late last year that she wouldn’t return her blue slip for Miller, arguing that Republicans were trying to place “extreme conservatives" on the court.

"This needs to end. So I am not going to be complicit in this latest rushed process to load the courts with Trump nominees in the lame duck session and I will not be returning the blue slip that signals my approval of this process," Murray said in a statement at the time.

The blue-slip rule — a precedent upheld by Senate tradition — has historically allowed a home-state senator to stop a lower-court nominee by refusing to return the blue slip to the Judiciary Committee.

How strictly the precedent is upheld is decided by the committee chairman, and enforcement has varied depending on who wields the gavel.

But the use of the blue slip has emerged as a flashpoint during the Trump administration as several Democratic senators have refused to return their paperwork on circuit court nominees from their home states, setting up a round of fights between Democrats and the White House.

Democrats went “nuclear” to nix the 60-vote filibuster for district and circuit judges in 2013, leaving the blue slip as one of the few options left for a home-state senator who is in the minority to try and hold up a nominee they oppose.

“We are unilaterally disarming the Senate Judiciary Committee in a way that will have collateral damage well beyond the immediate goal of packing the courts with these nominees in a great rush,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a member of the committee, said during an hours-long, contentious hearing earlier this month.

Democrats and outside groups say Miller would be the first known example in the roughly 100 years that the blue slip has existed of a circuit nominee getting confirmed without either home-state senator returning the slip of paper.

“There are no known instances in which a nominee has ever been confirmed over the objections of both home-state senators. The Senate must not let Mr. Miller be the first, or it will strip senators of their constitutional role of providing advice and consent for appellate appointments in their states from this and all future administrations,” Vanita Gupta, the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, wrote in a letter to senators.

Ryan Bounds, a nominee for a different 9th Circuit seat, was poised to be the first last year when the Senate brought his nomination up for a vote without either Sens. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyMcConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' Overnight Energy: Protesters plan Black Friday climate strike | 'Father of EPA' dies | Democrats push EPA to abandon methane rollback Warren bill would revoke Medals of Honor for Wounded Knee massacre MORE (D-Ore.) or Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report Trump administration approves Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina MORE (D-Ore.) returning a blue slip. But his nomination was withdrawn after GOP Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottTrump to sign order penalizing colleges over perceived anti-Semitism on campus: report Here are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump GOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements MORE (S.C.) said he wouldn’t support him.

Republicans infuriated Democrats when they held a hearing for Miller during the October recess last year when most lawmakers were out of town. GOP aides argued that Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSanders revokes congressional endorsement for Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Houston police chief stands by criticism of McConnell, Cruz, Cornyn: 'This is not political' MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, had agreed to the dates, but Democrats say they did not agree to move forward if the Senate was not in session.

Only two senators of the then-21-member panel attended the hearing, with Miller only getting asked two questions by Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoGOP senator blocks bill aimed at preventing Russia election meddling The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Lawmakers battle over future of Ex-Im Bank MORE (R-Idaho). Neither Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley urges White House to help farmers in year-end tax talks The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday MORE (R-Iowa), who was the chairman at the time, or any of the Democratic senators were there.

Republicans have dismissed complaints from Democrats over moving circuit court nominees despite the objections of home-state senators, arguing that Democrats are trying to apply a standard not enforced by most Judiciary Committee chairmen.

“Now you’re complaining about the fact that we won’t allow two senators to take over the entire process? The blue slip process for circuit judges are not gonna be allowed to become a veto,” Graham said on Friday.

Republicans view the courts as their best shot for the party having a long-term impact.

Appeals courts, in particular, are a top priority for McConnell because the circuit courts hear thousands of cases every year —  compared to the Supreme Court, which heard 69 cases during their last term — and often have the final say for states within their jurisdiction.

Republicans set a record for the number of appeals judges confirmed during an administration’s first two years and McConnell, speaking at a Heritage Foundation event shortly before the midterms, pledged that “if we hold the Senate I assure you we will complete the job of transforming the federal judiciary.”

Miller was one of more than forty nominees that were approved by the Judiciary Committee earlier this month and sent onto the full Senate for a vote. Of those nominations, six were circuit pick nominees.

Graham indicated on Friday that Republicans have approximately eight to 10 circuit nominations to fill in 2019. He’s also got looming fights over three 9th Circuit nominees from California after Feinstein and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBooker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Sanders revokes congressional endorsement for Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats trading jabs ahead of Los Angeles debate MORE (D-Calif.), who is running for president, came out against the administration’s picks.

“We’ve got a real queue. ... Trust me on this, we will get our judges to the floor,” Graham added. “Whatever you want to say about Mitch McConnell, he’s done a hell of a job when it comes to processing judges.”