Senate Dems take a page from GOP in judicial nominee battles

Then-Judiciary chair Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) cited delays from Democrats when he did away with blue slips for circuit court nominees in 2017 while preserving the prerogative for home-state senators to object to district court nominees. But the issue has been a point of contention ever since, particularly as Senate Republicans confirmed 54 circuit court judges as part of a broader march to reshape the federal bench with new conservative appointments.

Democrats returned blue slips for more than 85 district court nominees over the past four years, the Democratic committee aide noted — a high number that leaves the new majority optimistic that the GOP would take a similar approach. The blue-slip process typically affords outsized power to senators from the opposite party of the White House who represent states with federal court vacancies by giving them the authority to nix the president’s picks.

Three of the 50 Republican senators currently represent states that Biden won in November: Susan Collins of Maine, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania,

“It’s our expectation that Republicans likewise act in good faith and work with the Biden administration to fill district court vacancies in red and purple states,” the aide said.

Durbin’s decision to keep blue slips for district court nominees isn’t necessarily final and could change if district court openings pile up. (There are currently 54 vacancies.) But for the moment it promises to frustrate progressives who want to see the tradition disbanded altogether.

“I do think [blue slips] should be scrapped. I think they should be scrapped for circuits as well as districts,” said Christopher Kang, chief counsel at Demand Justice, a liberal judicial advocacy group.

“You’re ending up with two tracks of justice, where Americans living in a state represented by a Republican senator might have very different judges than one who lives in a state represented by Democratic home state senators,” he added.