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 GrassleySenate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug' Treasury expands penalty relief to more taxpayers Overnight Health Care: Senators seek CBO input on preventing surprise medical bills | Oversight panel seeks OxyContin documents | Pharmacy middlemen to testify on prices | Watchdog warns air ambulances can put patients at 'financial risk' MORE (R-Iowa) over the “blue-slip rule” escalated this week, after another one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos claims he was pressured to sign plea deal Tlaib asking colleagues to support impeachment investigation resolution Trump rips 'Mainstream Media': 'They truly are the Enemy of the People' 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 FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Senate GOP eyes probes into 2016 issues 'swept under the rug' Top Senate Judiciary Dem asks Barr to hand over full Mueller report by April 1 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 FrankenHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Man who threatened to kill Obama, Maxine Waters faces up to 20 years in prison Gillibrand defends her call for Franken to resign 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 BaldwinTrump mounts Rust Belt defense On The Money: Trump issues emergency order grounding Boeing 737 Max jets | Senate talks over emergency resolution collapse | Progressives seek defense freeze in budget talks Dems offer bill to end tax break for investment-fund managers 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 LeahyTop Senate Dem to Trump: It would be a 'grave mistake' to follow in Richard Nixon's footsteps Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Hillicon Valley: Mueller delivers report, ending investigation | FEMA exposed info of 2.3M disaster survivors | Facebook asks judge to toss DC privacy lawsuit | Trump picks his first CTO | FCC settles lawsuit over net neutrality records 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 WydenHillicon Valley: Mueller delivers report, ending investigation | FEMA exposed info of 2.3M disaster survivors | Facebook asks judge to toss DC privacy lawsuit | Trump picks his first CTO | FCC settles lawsuit over net neutrality records Treasury expands penalty relief to more taxpayers Overnight Health Care: Senators seek CBO input on preventing surprise medical bills | Oversight panel seeks OxyContin documents | Pharmacy middlemen to testify on prices | Watchdog warns air ambulances can put patients at 'financial risk' MORE (D) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Judge halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change | Dems demand details on Interior's offshore drilling plans | Trump mocks wind power Dem senators demand offshore drilling info before Bernhardt confirmation hearing Business groups urge Congress to combat LGBTQ discrimination in workplace 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.