McConnell: Democratic ‘Blue Slips’ Won’t Block Trump Judges

Says objections home-state Democrats will only indicate dissent

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made his most pointed comments yet about judicial nominations. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made his most pointed comments yet about judicial nominations. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)
Posted October 11, 2017 at 11:28am

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear that Senate Republicans intend to get President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees confirmed no matter what obstacles the Democrats throw their way.

The Kentucky Republican has now confirmed he plans to move forward on judicial nominees even if home-state Democratic senators don’t return their so-called “blue slips” to the Judiciary Committee.

The general practice has been for the Judiciary Committee not to consider lifetime appointments to the federal bench without the acquiescence of the delegation, regardless of party. But it’s been a tradition rather than a rule.

Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley has previously signaled he could have some flexibility on enforcement of the tradition, especially for circuit court nominees.

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer expressed hope that Grassley would not follow McConnell’s lead.

“The Senate has fewer and fewer mechanisms that create bipartisanship and bring people to an agreement. The blue slips are one of them. It’s just a shame that Senator McConnell is willing to abandon it for circuit court judges,” the New York Democrat said in a statement. “We hope that Chairman Grassley, who has always believed in the traditions of the Senate, will resist Senator McConnell’s request.”

The first flash point after McConnell’s comments could be over Trump’s choice of Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David Stras to be a judge on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken is declining to the return the blue slip for the Stras nomination.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary panel, has implored Grassley to adhere to the tradition.

“The purpose of the blue slip is to ensure consultation between the White House and home-state senators on judicial nominees from their states. I expect the committee to honor Senator Franken’s decision not to return a blue slip, as was always done when Republican senators didn’t return blue slips on President Obama’s nominees,” Feinstein said in a statement last month.

The Kentucky Republican told The Weekly Standard that going forward, the lack of notice will be seen “as simply notification of how you’re going to vote, not as an opportunity to blackball.”

McConnell also made clear that he intended to prioritize confirming new federal judges over some other mid-level Trump nominees, given the long-term significance of getting new conservatives installed in jobs that will long outlast the Trump White House.

Specifically, McConnell said in the interview that when it comes to the “priority between an assistant secretary of State and a conservative court judge — it’s not a hard choice to make.”