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Grassley Signals Deference to White House on Circuit Judges

Blue slips on district judges might carry more weight than appellate picks

Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley signaled flexibility on the blue slip process for appeals court judges. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley signaled flexibility on the blue slip process for appeals court judges. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says that he is likely to give more weight to objections from Democrats on district judge nominees than more powerful circuit court picks.

“I think the blue slip is more respected for district court judges historically than it has been for circuit,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley said Thursday in an interview with Roll Call and the Associated Press for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program.

The Judiciary Committee’s process has generally required senators to return a blue slip of paper consenting to hearings and markups of nominees for federal judgeships from their home states, but the Republican from Iowa argues that’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

“It’s much more a White House decision on circuit judges than the district court judges,” Grassley said. “I mean this is going to be an individual case-by-case decision, but it leads me to say that there’s going to have to be a less strict use or obligation to the blue slip policy for circuit, because that’s the way it’s been.”

Grassley’s comments, which came during an interview focused on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda for the Sunday edition of C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program are of immediate interest because of Trump’s announced slate of federal judicial nominees.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan L. Larsen, a former clerk for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has been picked for a 6th Circuit seat.

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras, who once clerked for Clarence Thomas, was named by Trump as his nominee for an 8th Circuit seat.

Both Midwestern states are represented entirely by Democratic senators, meaning that under a strict adherence to the blue slip procedure, they could stop the nominations in their tracks. Larsen and Stras had appeared on Trump campaign lists of potential Supreme Court picks for the vacancy that was ultimately filled by Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Grassley cited as an example of the greater deference to the White House an instance in the 1980s, when he and Sen. Roger Jepsen had made an appeals court recommendation to the Reagan administration that was ultimately dismissed.

Speaking also to nominations at the district court level, Grassley said he would consider the extent of the conversations between President Donald Trump’s White House and Democratic senators.

“I think it’s very important that the White House work very closely with senators, both Republican and Democrat. But particularly those states where they have two Democratic senators, and I think that a big factor for me is the extent to which those Democratic senators make sure that they have adequate communication with the White House,” Grassley said.

Grassley was asked about the judicial confirmation process after he responded to a question about whether this week’s decision by Trump to fire FBI Director James B. Comey was going to complicate the legislative agenda.

“I think it is, but not as much as the Democrat obstruction in the United States Senate,” said Grassley. “I’ve even heard now that we’re going to have to file cloture on the governor of Iowa being the ambassador to China, and he was reported out unanimously.”

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