Momentum is building in the Senate for doing away with an arcane rule that allows senators to block some of President Trump’s judicial nominees.
The “blue-slip” rule — a precedent upheld by Senate tradition — allows a home-state senator to stop a lower-court nominee by refusing to return a sheet of paper, known as a blue slip, to the Judiciary Committee.
Conservatives have clamored for months to get rid of the rule, arguing Democrats are abusing the process to block qualified nominees.
They recently gained a powerful ally: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), at least when it comes to picks for the U.S. courts of appeals.
“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.
He added that he supports keeping the blue slip rule for district court judges, whose decisions can get appealed to the circuit court.
With Trump and congressional Republicans struggling to rack up major legislative wins — they have, so far, failed to repeal ObamaCare and tax reform is months behind schedule — the courts offer perhaps the best path for the GOP to make lasting change in the majority.
Trump currently has 144 vacancies to fill in the federal court system, with nominees already named for 45 of those spots. The vacancies include 21 on the circuit court, which span multiple states and ranks only below the Supreme Court.
Because the Senate’s “blue slip” practice isn’t a rule but a tradition enforced by the Judiciary Committee chairman, the decision on whether or not to move forward ultimately rests with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa.). But Democrats are prepared to test the issue.
Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) are pledging they will not return their slips for Ryan Bounds, Trump’s ninth circuit pick, or “any other nominee that has not been selected through our judicial process.”
“As senators charged with the task for advice and consent in the selection of candidates, we take our responsibility to identify and recommend candidates to fill Oregon judicial vacancies very seriously,” they wrote in a letter to the White House.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is also refusing to return his blue slip for David Stras, Trump’s eighth circuit nominee.