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Biden pick for Mississippi federal court awaits Senate hearing

Scott Colom has yet to appear before Senate Judiciary Committee, almost five months after he was first nominated

Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin is pictured in the Capitol in November.
Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin is pictured in the Capitol in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A federal district court nominee from Mississippi apparently has been held up from a confirmation hearing, even as President Joe Biden’s other judicial picks have funneled through the Senate Judiciary Committee process.

Back in October, the administration announced Scott Colom as a nominee for a judgeship position in the federal Northern District of Mississippi. At least nine other judicial nominees who were announced after him have completed their confirmation hearings.

The reason for the delay appears to be a committee tradition known as the “blue slip” process, which gives senators a de facto veto over nominees to district court seats in their home states.

The Senate committee requires that both home-state senators return blue slips before moving forward on a district court nominee, and senators from both parties have used the move in the past to block judicial nominees from their states.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has returned a blue slip for Colom’s nomination, according to the senator’s office. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., declined to comment on the nomination, and her office did not return questions on Colom’s nomination.

The office of Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin declined to say if a blue slip had been returned from Hyde-Smith on Colom. Durbin, when asked about it last week, said he doesn’t know that it has, “but I don’t believe it has.”

The Illinois Democrat previously said Hyde-Smith told him she wanted to wait until a routine investigation on Colom was completed.

Durbin’s office declined to say if the investigation was completed. A White House official said it has been completed for some time.

Mississippi nominee

Colom was elected in 2015 as district attorney for the 16th circuit court district in Mississippi, a post he continues to hold today. He campaigned in part on what he called a “criminal justice reform platform” that included a different approach for young drug offenders.

His opponent, a longtime incumbent who has been characterized as an aggressive prosecutor, has said the election outcome was tilted by money from liberal billionaire George Soros, according to a report from The Clarion-Ledger.

The billionaire provided almost $400,000 to a political action committee that backed the campaigns of Colom and another local election, the newspaper reported.

Christopher Kang, who previously worked as Judiciary Committee counsel for Durbin and helped spearhead judicial nominations during the Obama administration, said besides a blue slip issue, he can’t think of another reason why Colom would not be listed for a hearing.

Kang is now co-founder and chief counsel of Demand Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group that opposes the blue slip process.

The blue slip approval from Wicker demonstrates Biden’s good faith efforts to find a consensus nominee, Kang said. The blue slip process, he said, allows a senator to block a nomination without any public explanation.

“It doesn’t matter if she ever gives a reason for whatever action she chooses to take,” Kang said of Hyde-Smith. “Now, four and a half months after his nomination, she’s been allowed to simply say no comment.”

Colom is not the only nominee for a Mississippi spot to not get confirmation hearings swiftly. The Biden administration named Justice Department official Todd Gee, a Mississippi native, as a nominee to be U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. But his nomination hasn’t moved forward since his name was announced in September. Neither have two U.S. marshal nominees for Mississippi who were announced at the same time.

Colom and the other nominees were renominated at the beginning of the new Congress in January.

Blue slips

The blue slip tradition is coming under scrutiny as there are more than two dozen district court vacancies without a listed nominee in states represented by two Republican senators, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

For his part, Durbin has stood by the blue slip tradition and encouraged bipartisan cooperation. He has said he would suspend the practice if he sees it being used to discriminate against a nominee over their race, gender or sexual orientation.

On Thursday, during a Judiciary Committee meeting, Durbin pointed to vacancies that have been deemed “judicial emergencies,” situations in which the “courts are not functioning properly because of workload.”

“I want to make this a priority in red and blue states, and it will really be a test as to whether or not we can make the blue slip process work in a closely divided Senate,” Durbin said.

There have been some signs of movement on judicial nominees in states with two Republican senators.

Last month, the Biden administration said it would nominate Jabari Wamble for a federal district court seat in Kansas, a state with two Republican senators. And in January, the Biden administration named Amanda Brailsford as a nominee for a district court seat in deep-red Idaho.

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