Judicial Nominations

  • December 7, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

    As the longest-serving member of the United States Senate and a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I feel obligated to speak up about the steady erosion of the Judiciary Committee’s norms and traditions. I am deeply troubled that Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has decided to reverse his blue slip policy.  

    The “blue slip” is a century-old Senate tradition that allows senators the courtesy of approving a nominee to the federal bench in their home state. There will surely be an ongoing discussion about the history of the blue slip tradition over the years.  Not all chairmen have adhered to the tradition in the same way. But one thing is beyond dispute: Casting aside blue slips based on how the partisan winds blow will damage the integrity of the Judiciary Committee’s judicial confirmation process.

    When I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, not a single judicial nominee received a hearing without first receiving both home state senators’ positive blue slips.  Regardless of who was in the Oval Office, I defended blue slips because I firmly believe in their constitutional importance—to give meaning to the constitutional requirement of “advice and consent.” 

  • November 17, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel, People For the American Way

    *This piece was originally posted by People For the American Way

    Chuck Grassley wrote this about blue slips in the Des Moines Register in 2015:

    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.

    It turns out that only applies to a Democratic president’s nominees. On Thursday, Politico reported that Chuck Grassley is ditching the longstanding Senate blue slip policy and will be holding a hearing for David Stras, even though Stras does not have the support of both of his home state senators. Grassley laid out his justification for this seismic shift in policy in an op-ed in The Hill yesterday. An earlier PFAW post explained how Grassley’s comparison to the 2013 filibuster rules change made no sense. But that’s just one of the many holes in his argument.

  • November 14, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Christopher Kang, ACS Board member and former Deputy Counsel to President Obama

    *This piece originally ran on Huffington Post

    On May 8, 2017, President Trump announced that he intended to nominate Magistrate Judge Terry Moorer to serve as a district judge in the Middle District of Alabama. This nomination would have been President Trump’s first African American judicial nominee, and it’s likely no coincidence that it was announced on the same day as Kevin Newsom for an Alabama-based seat on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Alabama has never had an African American circuit court judge, and Newsom replaced President Obama’s African American nominee, Judge Abdul Kallon, whom Senators Sessions and Shelby had blocked.

  • November 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, (D-R.I.)

    *These remarks were given by Senator Whitehouse during a Senate Judiciary Committee Nomination Hearing on November 1, 2017

    Our Senate Judiciary nominations hearings, I believe, have become something of a joke. Nominees come to us readied for our hearings by "murder boards" that taught them how to withstand all five minutes of questioning by Senators. Nominees are often packed into panels, so a Senator’s five minutes get spread across multiple nominees. The questioning of nominees is often simple and rote. A fundamental premise in the proceedings is that there is inevitably “law” that can be impartially applied to “facts,” and there endeth the lesson. 

    The falsity of this premise can be shown in two words: Merrick Garland. If judging were all about impartial application of law to facts, why the desperate effort to stop the most qualified judge to be nominated to the Supreme Court in our lifetimes? Why does the Supreme Court majority of five Republican appointees rule so predictably on so many issues important to big Republican interests? Why did candidate Trump need to make a list of whom he’d appoint to the Court to get conservative backing? Why are gobs of political dark money spent by special interests to push for the confirmation of judicial nominees? All of this political behavior around judicial appointments belies the notion that it’s just about impartially applying law to facts. Yet we’re supposed to accept the pretense.

  • November 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Jeff Mandell, partner at Stafford Rosenbaum LLP and chair of the ACS Madison Lawyer 

    *A shorter version of this post was distributed in Wisconsin by the Progressive Media Project and previously published by The Capital Times, the LaCrosse Tribune, and the Sun Prairie Star. 

    The U.S. Constitution grants the President power to nominate judges for the federal courts “by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.” In Wisconsin, for nearly 40 years all presidents, regardless of party, have considered candidates vetted and approved by a nominating commission run by the State Bar in cooperation with both Wisconsin Senators. President Trump unfortunately broke this practice by nominating Michael Brennan for a Wisconsin vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, though the nominating commission did not approve Brennan. Indeed, Brennan interviewed with the White House before even submitting his name to the nominating commission that ultimately did not recommend him.