Speed Reads

Judicial Activism

Republicans are close to scrapping a Senate tradition in order to help Trump pack the courts

President Trump's biggest accomplishment so far is probably elevating Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, but Republicans had to singe Senate traditions to get that done, scrapping the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees after refusing to consider the nominee from former President Barack Obama for nearly a year. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who engineered both those feats, has joined other Republicans in urging Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to remove one more roadblock to judicial confirmations, the "blue slip" that senators have been able to use to block the appointment of judges from their home states.

"My personal view is that the blue slip, with regard to circuit court appointments, ought to simply be a notification of how you're going to vote, not the opportunity to blackball," McConnell told The New York Times. During former President Barack Obama's eight years in office, Grassley and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) strictly honored the blue-slip requests, and Republicans took full advantage, leaving Trump a record number of federal judicial vacancies — 144, including 21 appellate judges and 115 district-level judges. Democrats got rid of the filibuster for appellate and district judges, so the blue slip objections are the only real lever Democrats have left.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has refused to return his blue slip for Trump appellate court nominee David Stras and Oregon's two senators, Ron Wyden (D) and Jeff Merkley (D), have said they will blue-slip appellate nominee Ryan Bounds. Many of the vacancies are in states with at least one Democratic senator, and the stakes are high, says The New York Times' Carl Hulse. Lifetime judicial appointments are "among the most important spoils of any administration," he says, and "given the opportunity to populate the highest courts with conservative nominees, it is hard to imagine that Senate Republicans will allow individual Democrats to determine the fate of so many judges."