Judicial Nominations

  • February 9, 2018
    Guest Post

    by Laila Robbins, Research & Program Associate, Brennan Center For Justice

    State courts—where 95% of all cases in the U.S. are filed—are powerful. Just last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the state’s gerrymandered congressional maps violated the state constitution and ordered the legislature to re-draw the maps before the upcoming midterm elections. State supreme courts are typically the final arbiters on state law questions, from whether Kansas has adequately funded its education system to whether a tort reform law in Arkansas violates the state constitution. Many of these rulings, like the Pennsylvania redistricting decision, have national implications.

  • January 24, 2018
    Guest Post

    by Caroline Fredrickson, ACS President

    Leading up to the federal government shutdown, the judicial nominations process further broke down.

    For the second time, Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, advanced a nominee without support from a home-state Senator. He scheduled a confirmation hearing on Jan. 24 for Michael Brennan, who President Trump nominated to a seat on the 7th Circuit Court without even consulting with the home-state Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

    Traditionally, the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee would only plan hearings for nominees who have the support of both of their home-state Senators. These two Senators turn in a blue sheet of paper, known as a blue slip, to the Chair as an indication of their approval for a candidate. With few previous exceptions, the Committee holds hearings for judicial nominees with blue slips.

  • January 24, 2018
    Guest Post

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

    The Senate runs on trust.

    Senator Patrick Leahy, as the Senate’s most senior member, knows this better than anyone. So last June, I took heart when he said, with respect to Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and blue slips on judicial nominations:

    “He told me he was going to follow the same procedures as chairman. And I take him at his word.... I’ve known him for over 30 years. He’s never broken his word to me.

    Last October, Senator Leahy reiterated, “Chairman Grassley has told me he will respect the blue slip tradition, just as I did. I trust him to keep his word.”

    This wasn’t just Chairman Grassley’s word in a private conversation among Committee leaders. In 2015, Chairman Grassley wrote an op-ed in the Des Moines Register, stating:

    “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 demiseI appreciate the value of the blue-slip process and also intend to honor it.

    And while Chairman Grassley did enforce blue slips during the Obama Administration—preventing 9 Obama judicial nominees from receiving a hearing—last November, he broke his word.

  • January 22, 2018
    Guest Post

    by Caroline Fredrickson

    For judicial nominations, 2018 began much the way 2017 ended. Rushed and reckless sum up the confirmation process.    

    Look at the pace with which the Senate is confirming nominees. Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, last week jammed through the Senate Judiciary Committee 17 of Trump’s judicial nominations. As Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., a committee member, noted on an ACS briefing call, the rocket docket is now the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

  • December 18, 2017
    by Samuel Rubinstein, Strategic Engagement Fellow, American Constitution Society
    As the eyes of the nation were on Alabama for the high profile special Senate election between Roy Moore and Doug Jones, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a decision that raises troubling questions of partisan decision-making by state court judges. This corrosive effect that campaign money and politics have had on impartial justice was highlighted by Partisan Justice, a recent ACS report.
    At issue in Alabama was a Montgomery County Circuit Court ruling which ordered the state not to destroy digital scans of paper ballots made by voting machines. Although paper ballots are retained, plaintiffs argued that public records laws mandate that the digital scans also be kept. The scans are important, they further argued, because only digital records are tabulated in the absence of a hand-recount, and machines can be tampered with. The state argued that the requested relief would require many machines to be reset with little time before the election. Siding with plaintiffs, the lower court wrote that, “the only action being asked of [the Secretary of State] at this point is to send a communication through a system that already exists and is routinely used,” to instruct local officials. Nonetheless, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the injunction, allowing the records to be destroyed. Ultimately, the election was decided by 1.5 percentage points, avoiding an automatic hand-recount.