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CBC Members Urge Senate Judiciary Chairman to Uphold Longstanding “Blue Slip” Policy for Federal Judicial Nominees

Richmond, Conyers, Norton: “To weaken [the “blue slip” policy] now would…would further politicize the courts, erode judicial diversity, and undermine public confidence…”

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Washington, November 17, 2017 | comments

WASHINGTON – On Thursday, Congressman Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA-02), the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI-13), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, (D-DC), Chairwoman of the CBC Judicial Nominations Working Group, sent a letter to the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), urging him to uphold the Committee’s longstanding “blue slip” policy, which prevents the Committee from considering a judicial nominee without the approval of both senators from the nominee’s state.  

Chairs of the Committee regardless of party have abided by the policy for 100 years in order to prevent the politicization of the federal bench – even when it was politically detrimental for their party to do so. After pledging to “honor” the policy last year before President Obama left office, Chairman Grassley recently announced that he was going to renege his pledge for two of President Trump’s judicial nominees both of whom haven’t received a “blue slip” from one of the senators in their respective states. Senators use blue slips to indicate favorable or unfavorable opinions about a nominee – opinions that are used to determine whether the nomination process will move forward. In the past, if one of the senator’s from a nominee’s state had an unfavorable opinion, then he or she wasn’t considered by the Committee.

The members wrote, “We write today to urge you to preserve the Senate’s constitutional role to provide advice and consent on judicial nominations and uphold the Judiciary Committee’s longstanding ‘blue slip’ policy… This is the same policy that was strictly enforced, at the request of Senate Republicans, throughout President Obama’s eight years in office. To weaken it now – and remove the last meaningful check on President Trump’s power to unilaterally pack the judiciary – would further politicize the courts, erode judicial diversity, and undermine public confidence in the judiciary’s ability to provide fair and impartial justice.”

Chairman Grassley’s predecessor, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), strictly upheld the “blue slip” policy, so much so that it cost President Obama 18 judicial nominees – including 12 people of color and only one white male –who would have added historic diversity to the federal bench. For example, Judge Abdul Kallon, would have been the first African American from Alabama to serve on the Eleventh Circuit. Justice Myra Selby would have been the first African American from Indiana to serve on the Seventh Circuit. Rebecca Haywood would have been the first African-American woman from any state to serve on the Third Circuit. All three were blocked by the “blue slip” policy, and all three have since been replaced by white nominees. “Enhancing the power of President Trump to unilaterally appoint judges will only exacerbate the dearth of diversity in the judiciary,” the members wrote. 

The members continued, “Senate Republicans were staunch defenders of blue slips throughout the Obama Administration. In 2009, the full Republican Caucus signed a letter urging President Obama to include them in the judicial selection process and stated their expectation that, because of ‘the profound impact that life-tenured federal judges can have in our society,’ the ‘Committee’s practice of observing senatorial courtesy’ will be ‘observed, even-handedly and regardless of party affiliation.’ In 2014, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, a current Member of the Judiciary Committee, wrote that weakening or eliminating the ‘blue slip veto’ would be ‘disastrous’ and ‘ultimately produce a more politicized judiciary.’ Given this history, dissolving blue slips now would be nothing more than a raw political power play, done solely to make it easier for President Trump to politicize the courts.” 


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