Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said Wednesday he would be willing to reinstate the 60-vote threshold for filibustering judicial nominees — but only in a new presidential administration.
Mr. Graham said he feared the Senate was drifting toward majoritarian rule, much like the House, and that could soon spread to even filibusters on legislation. He said one way to reverse that would be to restore the previous rules for filibusters.
“I am willing — as a final thought — to go back to the 60-vote requirement after 2020. Nobody knows who is going to win. I’ll do that right now,” the South Carolina Republican said at a committee hearing.
He was responding to Democrats who were chiding him for holding hearings for nominees for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite their home-state senators using the “blue slip” process to lodge objections. New York’s two senators — both Democrats — withheld their blue slips, signifying they objected to President Trump’s picks for the two seats, but Mr. Graham is moving them through the committee anyway.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, said ignoring blue slips was undermining senators’ ability to affect judicial selections.
“This was a terrible mistake by our friends on the other side,” he said.
But Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, said Democrats are the ones who upended the confirmation process in 2013 when they voted to trigger the “nuclear option” and eliminate the 60-vote requirement for nominees to the Executive Branch and district and circuit court posts.
Republicans in 2017 completed the move by lowering the threshold for Supreme Court picks.
“You guys made this decision in 2013. The blue slip tradition is just a tradition,” Mr. Sasse said. “You’re talking about a small matter … the big 2013 decision you guys chose to go to 51 votes.”
The filibuster had been one way to enforce fealty to blue slips, with the minority party able to block nominees for whom the process wasn’t respected.
Now, with the lower threshold for overcoming a nomination filibuster, that option is gone.
Mr. Graham has said he will respect the blue slips tradition for lower district court nominees, but not for circuit courts.
Mr. Whitehouse said Republicans could show bipartisanship by adhering to blue slips for all court picks.
“I think the only way it gets fixed is if the side that did away with the blue slip brings it back,” Mr. Whitehouse said.