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Grassley Prepares to Bypass Franken to Move Trump Appeals Court Nominee

Rejects policy of allowing blue slip to be used as a veto

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is announcing his interpretation of the “blue slip” policy. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is announcing his interpretation of the “blue slip” policy. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley is ready to move forward with President Donald Trump’s appellate judicial nominees, even when home-state senators have formal objections.

Grassley is going to move ahead with confirmation hearings for Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras to be a judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Politico reported ahead of a formal announcement by the chairman.

“The Democrats seriously regret that they abolished the filibuster, as I warned them they would,” Grassley said on the Senate floor Thursday. “But they can’t expect to use the blue slip courtesy in its place.”

Democratic Sen. Al Franken has declined to return his blue slip on the nomination. The blue slip is a physical piece of paper returned to the Judiciary Committee giving consent as part of the advisory process on home-state judicial nominees.

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In recent practice, negative responses on blue slips have stopped nominees in their tracks. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, among others, have called for changes in that practice to prevent Democrats from thwarting Trump’s appeals court nominees.

The move was an expected one. In early November, the Judiciary Committee’s majority staff released a memo outlining the different ways chairmen have interpreted blue slips.

Strict deference to home-state senators seems to have originated with Sen. James O. Eastland, a segregationist Democrat from Mississippi. Eastland may well have been motivated by his views on segregation and states’ rights.

When Utah Republican Orrin G. Hatch wielded the gavel, nominees with negative blue slips were sometimes considered, a practice also followed by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. when the Delaware Democrat led the committee.

But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont was more rigid in his interpretation, sometimes frustrating fellow Democrats with his strict policy of deferring to home-state senators.

Both Hatch and current ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California have weighed in on the judicial wars in recent days with opinion pieces in the pages of Roll Call.

“Senate Republicans have done a head-spinning 180 on the value of the ‘blue slip,’ a 100-year-old tool that gives home state senators the ability to sign off on judicial nominees in their states. This practice ensures that the White House consults senators on lifetime appointments and that nominees are mainstream and well-suited to serve in their states,” Feinstein wrote.

Feinstein was writing in response to Hatch.

“I can understand why they want to weaponize the blue slip like this. After all, they once used the filibuster to prevent confirmation of Republican judges, but then abolished nomination filibusters so that no one else could use it. Democrats are today trying to turn the blue slip into a de facto filibuster,” Hatch wrote in his opinion piece. “They want a single senator to be able to do in the Judiciary Committee what it once took 41 senators to do on the Senate floor.”

Grassley is planning to schedule a hearing to consider Trump’s nomination of Kyle Duncan of Louisiana to a seat on the 5th Circuit, according to the Politico report, on whom home-state Republican John Kennedy has been publicly undecided.

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