Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley signaled this week he won’t adhere to a strict “blue-slip” policy for judicial nominees, clearing the path for Republicans to install some of President Trump’s picks over the objections of home-state Democrats.
Mr. Grassley said the blue-slip tradition was intended to make sure the president consults with senators about judicial picks from their states, but wasn’t intended to give those same senators an absolute veto.
“A senator can’t use a blue slip to block a nominee because it’s not the person the senator would’ve picked. The president gets to nominate judges,” Mr. Grassley said on the chamber floor Monday.
Under the tradition, unless both home-state senators return their blue slips signaling acquiescence, the Senate Judiciary Committee usually won’t proceed with a nomination.
Only a couple of committee chairman over the last century have ruled no nominee would be considered without both home-state senators returning their blue slips. For most of that time, it was considered an important but not determining factor, Mr. Grassley said.
The dispute over blue-slip tradition recently heated up when Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, said he wouldn’t return his blue slip for Mr. Trump’s nominee Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Shortly after that, both of Oregon’s Democratic senators said they also wouldn’t return their blue slips for another of the president’s circuit court picks.
Democrats said that should scuttle the picks altogether and force Mr. Trump to come up with someone else. The president’s backers countered that Democrats, left without the power of a filibuster, were looking for other tools to deny Mr. Trump his nominees.
Mr. Grassley said the White House may have a different sense for an individual’s worthiness to sit on a federal court, and “so long as there is consultation, the president generally gets to make that call.”
“I won’t allow the blue slip to be abused,” he said. “I won’t allow senators to block nominees for political or ideological reasons. This position is consistent with the historical role of the blue slip courtesy.”