McConnell to End Blue Slip Tradition to Accelerate Judicial Confirmations

Senator Mitch McConnell at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in 2012. (Public domain photo by Air Force Maj. Dale Greer)

Since President Trump and the new Congress took office, Republicans have actively pushed for conservative legislation with little to no results, heightening the importance of filling empty court seats with conservative judges.

For around the past century, senators have been able to veto the nomination of a judge from the state he or she represents by not filling out a form known as a blue slip.

In May rumors surfaced of plans to scrap the procedure and now in a new interview Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the practice is effectively over.

The blue slip practice is not part of the Senate rules, however, it is tradition and the Senate largely relies on precedent in matters of procedure. In withholding a blue slip, a senator could effectively veto a president’s nomination for the federal judiciary, the idea being that this would moderate it.

Additionally, the blue slip tradition made the Senate more bipartisan by allowing members of the minority party to maintain some power. In the past, the slip has been respected by both parties. In 2009, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., upheld the practice without exception and requested that President Obama respect it.

Democrats have held a unified force against the ending of the blue slip practice, criticizing Senate Republicans for their hypocrisy and referencing the last year of the Obama administration when 18 of President Obama’s judicial nominees were rejected, six of whom were to the Courts of Appeals.

In spite of this opposition, in recent months the judicial selection process has proceeded as seen in the confirmation of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch. McConnell led the Republican Senate caucus in removing the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees.

Currently, there are 144 federal court vacancies, 21 of which are on appeals courts and 115 at the district court level. However, 45 nominations are pending confirmation, 11 for appellate courts and 34 for district-level courts. Many of the candidates were stalled by blue slip vetoes.

In an interview with The Weekly Standard, McConnell gave an abundantly clear warning to Democrats by stating that Senate Republicans will regard the blue slip practice “as simply a notification of how you’re going to vote, not as an opportunity to blackball” a nominee. His tenor clarified that he is looking to confirm candidates regardless of the “tactics used by Democrats.”

McConnell’s forceful and strong approach to the blue slip practice correlates to the increasing pressure he faces as majority leader from all sides of his party, both in and outside of the Senate.

The Judicial Crisis Network and the Conservative Action Project have both encouraged McConnell to further speed up the judicial confirmations in an attempt to expedite their goals for the federal bench.

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