WASHINGTON – The “blue slip” tradition in the Senate may be on the chopping block following Sen. Al Franken’s refusal to approve the nomination of Justice David Stras to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a turn-of-the-century tradition, the blue slip is a piece of paper sent to a senator by the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee when the president has nominated an individual from the senator’s home state. The blue slip gives the senator a voice in choosing to support or object the nomination. Without receiving approval from both of the state’s senators, a nominee will not receive a confirmation hearing. Now the tradition may be coming to an end.
With 150 federal court vacancies and 50 nominations waiting to be processed, Senate Republicans are anxious to get President Donald Trump’s nominees moved through the nomination process. However, Democrats have been using the blue slip tradition to stall the process.
Franken made headlines last month with his refusal to return his blue slip for Stras, effectively blocking the nominee despite fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar giving her approval. Franken cited Stras’ similar ideologies to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as a factor in his decision. He also expressed disapproval with how the White House handled the nomination, claiming the administration failed to consult him until after Stras’ nomination.
Franken’s refusal to let Stras move forward with a hearing has led to discussion of getting rid of the blue slip tradition.
Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), eager to fill the many judicial vacancies, is making a case for ignoring the tradition. In an interview with The Weekly Standard, McConnell said the blue slip should be used “as simply [a] notification of how you’re going to vote, not as an opportunity to blackball” a nominee.
However, because the blue slip is merely a Senate tradition enforced by the Judiciary Committee chairman, the decision does not land on McConnell. Instead, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) would have the final say on the matter.
Grassley has previously been hesitant to do away with the blue slip tradition. However Grassley spokesperson Taylor Foy left an open door for the blue slip to be overlooked, saying the senator would address “abuses” of the tradition “on a case-by-case basis.”
“Sen. Grassley has said that he expects Senators and the president to continue engaging in consultation when selecting judicial nominees,” Foy said in a statement, according to The Hill. “As in the past, any abuses of the courtesy would be addressed on a case-by-case basis.”
Franken has pushed back on the GOP’s efforts to override his blue slip veto, calling for Grassley to “protect the prerogatives” of senators.
“[I]n an attempt to stack the courts with right-wing judges, powerful special interests and conservative groups are pressuring Senate Republicans to kill off the blue slip,” Franken said in a statement obtained by the Star Tribune. “In the face of this pressure, I urge Chairman Grassley to demonstrate the same integrity that [past Democratic chairman] Senator [Patrick] Leahy demonstrated and to protect the prerogatives of all senators — Republican and Democratic alike.”
Despite Franken’s disapproval, Stras has been widely acknowledged as a good candidate to fill the vacancy in the federal court. Before joining the Minnesota Supreme Court, Stras was a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, specializing in federal courts. The American Bar Association (ABA) unanimously rated Stras “well qualified,” the highest rating given by the ABA. Stras was also on Trump’s shortlist to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Judiciary Committee has held 24 hearings so far for Trump’s judicial nominees. Five more nominees are expected to receive a hearing next week. Grassley has yet to indicate whether he will override Franken’s blue slip and allow Stras a hearing.