GOP senator opposes Biden court pick, likely blocking nominee

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said on Tuesday that he doesn’t support President Biden’s pick to fill a district court vacancy in his home state, likely dooming the nomination absent a shift by Democrats.

Johnson said that he would oppose William Pocan, who was nominated by Biden to be a district judge in the Eastern District of Wisconsin. It marks the first time during the Biden administration a senator has not returned a blue slip — a piece of paper that indicates if a home-state senator supports a nominee — for a district court nominee. 

“Since Judge Pocan’s nomination, I have been hearing concerns from the Green Bay legal community that they needed a judge who is locally based and actively involved in their community. That is not the case with Judge Pocan,” Johnson said in a statement.

“In addition, the tragedy in Waukesha never should have happened. That it did, is the direct result of soft on crime low bail policies and court orders. I cannot support someone for a lifetime appointment that has granted low bail for someone charged with violent felonies. That is not in the best interest of Wisconsinites nor Americans. I look forward to working with President Biden on selecting a suitable nominee,” he added.

Johnson and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) previously recommended Pocan as a potential pick to fill the vacancy. Wisconsin uses a nominating commission that recommends four to six names to the senators, who then formally make recommendations to the president.

Typically, district court nominees who don’t get blue slips from both home-state senators don’t advance in the Senate Judiciary Committee. A spokeswoman for Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, didn’t immediately respond to questions about if he will advance the nominee.

Though Republicans advanced circuit court nominees during the Trump administration over the objections of both home-state senators, infuriating Democrats, they left the blue slip, which isn’t a rule but a Senate precedent, intact for district court nominees. That gives a home-state senator an effective veto over district court nominees from their state.

Durbin, during an interview with The New York Times, said that he would stick with the precedent for honoring the blue slip on district court nominees. But he warned at the time that he wouldn’t let it be abused to block a nominee because of their race or gender. 

“If I think it’s reached a point where the blue slip on district court judges is really not a question of temperament or philosophy or academic background and experience, but really gets down to some base issues involving race and gender, I reserve the right to revisit that. I’m not going to be party to that. I am not going to let the blue slip perpetuate prejudice in America,” Durbin said at the time.

Johnson’s objection immediately sparked new call from some on the left for Democrats to ignore the blue slip for district judges.

“This bad faith objection eight months after Johnson recommended Pocan is the perfect example of why Biden and Durbin should ignore blue slips even for district courts,” Christopher Kang, the chief counsel for the progressive group Demand Justice, tweeted.

Tags Dick Durbin Joe Biden Ron Johnson Tammy Baldwin William Pocan Wisconsin

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