Senator Chuck Grassley has suggested in recent weeks that as Chair of the Judiciary Committee he may give more deference to blue-slips when it comes to district court nominations than circuit court nominations, inaccurately claiming that this has “historically” happened1. And there have also been suggestions2 from a variety of senators3 about their desire to move away from the blue-slip custom. Ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, has requested that the blue-slip process continue, with home-state Senators approving judicial nominees. Feinstein has further explained that blue-slips were used consistently for both district and circuit court nominees throughout the Obama administration4 under Democratic and Republican leadership.
The blue-slip process that allows home state Senators input and approval on judicial nominees is critical, as Senator Grassley has stated many times in the past (quoted below). Because of Senator Grassley’s newfound inconsistency on the blue-slip process — suggesting he may once again blow up the Senate rules for President Trump — and because an independent judiciary is more important than ever, we encourage his constituents and the media to hold the Senator to his past public support of the blue-slip, and ask him the following questions.
In a Des Moines Register column5 in April of 2015, Senator Grassley complimented his Democratic counterpart, Senator Leahy, who even used the blue-slip process when those in his own party wanted it to end:
“For nearly a century, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has brought nominees up for committee consideration only after both home-state senators have signed and returned what’s known as a “blue slip.” This tradition is designed to encourage outstanding nominees and consensus between the White House and home-state senators. Over the years, Judiciary Committee chairs of both parties have upheld a blue-slip process, including Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, my immediate predecessor in chairing the committee, who steadfastly honored the tradition even as some in his own party called for its demise. I appreciate the value of the blue-slip process and also intend to honor it.”
Question for Senator Grassley: Will you stand up to those in your own party who want the blue-slip process to end, as Senator Leahy did?
On at least two occasions, Senator Grassley discouraged Congress from acting as a “rubber stamp” for the President’s proposals, including lifetime appointments to the federal Judiciary:
In a July 2011 floor statement6, Senator Grassley stated that “lifetime appointments are too important to the federal Judiciary and the American people to simply rubber-stamp them.”
And in March of 2016, Senator Grassley stated7 that “Although the President would like Congress to rubber stamp every proposal he suggests, that’s not the way our separation of powers works.”
Question for Senator Grassley: Will you continue the use of the blue-slip process for circuit and district court nominations, or will you allow President Trump to override home-state Senators, turning the Judiciary Committee into a rubber stamp for his nominees?
In April of 2009, Senator Grassley signed a letter8 to President Obama, along with every Republican in the U.S. Senate at the time, in support of the blue-slip process and deference to home-state Senators for nominees within their state:
“We hope your Administration will consult with us as it considers possible nominations to the federal courts from our states. Regretfully, if we are not consulted on, and approve of, a nominee from our states, the Republican Conference will be unable to support moving forward on that nominee. Despite press reports that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee now may be considering changing the Committee’s practice of observing senatorial courtesy, we, as a Conference, expect it to be observed, even-handedly and regardless of party affiliation. And we will act to preserve this principle and the rights of our colleagues if it is not.”
Question for Senator Grassley: Will your actions now as Chair of the Judiciary be consistent with the letter you signed in 2009, and your other past statements, applying the blue-slip process even handedly and regardless of party affiliation?
(1) Roll Call, 5/11/17, Grassley Signals Deference to White House on Circuit Judges http://www.rollcall.com/news/
(2) The Hill, 5/20/17, GOP talks of narrowing ‘blue-slip rule’ for judges http://thehill.com/homenews/
(3) The Washington Post, 5/25/17, Senate Republicans likely to change custom that allows Democrats to block judicial choices https://www.washingtonpost.
(4) Washington Times, 5/24/17 Feinstein demands GOP follow ‘blue slip’ tradition for Trump’s nominees http://www.washingtontimes.
(5) Des Moines Register, 4/14/15, Working to secure Iowa’s judicial legacy http://www.desmoinesregister.
(6) Sen. Grassley Floor Statement, 10/13/11, Seeking Quality, Not Quantity https://www.grassley.senate.
(7) Sen. Grassley Answer, 3/29/16, Q&A: Senate Judiciary Committee https://www.grassley.senate.
(8) Senate Republican Conference, 3/2/09, Letter to the President on Judges https://www.republican.senate.