Grassley takes aim at "blue slips"

  • 20 November 2017
  • NormanL
Grassley takes aim at "blue slips"

One of the more arcane Senate customs is allowing Senators to quietly issue what are called "blue slips" to delay the confirmation hearings of presidential nominees. The practice is 100 years old, and has been used to hold up hearings for any numbers of reasons. But when Democrats did away with the filibuster for most nominations the last time they were in the majority, they were left with very few tools to stop Republicans from approving nominees once the GOP took control. Except for blue slips, which act almost as personal vetos.

But the days of the blue slip delay appear to be over:

[Sen. Charles Grassley] announced Thursday that he is going ahead with a confirmation hearing for a nominee to the powerful appellate courts despite the objections of a Democrat who had been blocking the nomination for months.

The move will likely escalate the judicial wars in the Senate.

Grassley says he has scheduled hearings for David Stras, a nominee to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Stras’ home-state senator, said earlier this year that he would not return the so-called blue slip for Stras because of his conservative ideology.

“The Democrats seriously regret that they abolished the filibuster, as I warned them they would,” Grassley said in his floor speech. “But they can’t expect to use the blue slip courtesy in its place. That’s not what the blue slip is meant for.”

The blue slip asks whether a senator approves or disapproves of a nominee.

Along with the Stras hearing, Grassley will announce that he will hold a hearing for Kyle Duncan, picked by President Donald Trump to serve on the 5th Circuit. His home-state senator, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), has returned a blue slip, but he noted that he was undecided on the nomination as he submitted the paper.

The blue slip process is a century-old Senate tradition that says the Judiciary Committee doesn’t hold a confirmation hearing for potential judges without approval from the candidate’s home-state senators. Senators return an actual blue slip to the committee.

It is also one of the Democrats’ last major leverage points over Trump’s judicial nominees, after they voted to kill the filibuster for most nominations four years ago. The Republicans abolished the 60-vote threshold for filibusters on Supreme Court picks earlier this year.

At least four Democrats have not returned blue slips for Trump’s circuit nominees: Franken, Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

The blue slip may not be entirely dead, but Grassley has made it clear his patience with Democrats over their delaying tactics has run out. We hope he goes further, and does away with the blue slips altogether -- because elections are supposed to have consequences.