White House pushes for more leeway to ram through liberal judicial nominees
Editor's note: In the original article, we wrongly stated that Sen. Leahy is 'just fine' with senators holding back blue slips on judicial nominees. The line has been removed and we regret the error.
WASHINGTON, D.C., March 24, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Intent on pushing its agenda through the Senate, including judges that support same-sex “marriage” and abortion “rights,” the White House is trying to get a second part of the Senate's checks-and-balances eliminated.
Last year, Senate Democrats – including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont – voted to all but eliminate the ability of Senate Republicans to stop judicial nominees through the process known as “filibustering." Now, White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler is saying Leahy should stop granting an important courtesy to Republicans: the “blue slip” nomination.
According to the Judiciary Committee website, a “blue slip” courtesy is given to senators from a nominee's home state. The senators can then either provide the slip to the Committee and the White House with support for, or opposition to, consideration of the nominee. The slip is not considered binding in any way.
A Senate GOP aide told LifeSiteNews that the blue slip process is “essentially quality control provided by a department expert.”
“Who’s in a better position to provide a check on an unqualified nominee than a senator from the home state,” said the aide. “The WH makes it seem like every nominee is a needle in a haystack, [but] every state has a lot of people qualified to be a judge.”
Ruemmler, who heads the White House's nomination process, told Politico that Republicans are abusing the process. However, according to a spokesperson for Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley, R-IA, “the blue slip process has been working as it should.”
“Senator Grassley appreciates the Chairman honoring a process that dates back approximately 100 years and ensures cooperation and consultation between the White House and home state senators,” the spokesperson told LifeSiteNews. “It’s good for the Senate and good for the Judiciary.”
Ruemmler says the process is being held up by Republicans, noting that at least two Republican senators – Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Richard Burr of North Carolina – are holding back blue slips from nominees they supported in the past, and Roy Blunt of Missouri is four months late on returning a blue slip.
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Last year, Leahy stood against pressure from his own party on blue slips, defending himself as having a record of “consistent fairness.”
“As Chairman of this Committee, I have steadfastly protected the rights of the minority. I have done so despite criticism from Democrats,” said Leahy. “I have only proceeded with judicial nominations supported by both home state Senators.”
Leahy noted that he “stopped proceedings on a circuit court nominee from Kansas when the Kansas Republican Senators reversed themselves and withdrew their support for the nominee,” and “had to deny the Majority Leader’s request to push a Nevada nominee through Committee because she did not have the support of Nevada’s Republican Senator.”
The nominee from Kansas was former Attorney General Steve Six. Pro-life groups had opposed Six's nomination, but both Republican senators had stood behind Six during his nomination process. After they asked Leahy to not continue with the nomination, with no reasons given, Leahy stopped the nominating process. It was thought that he had enough bipartisan support to get Six nominated.
The Senate does not appear concerned about Ruemmler's complaints. Six nominees have gotten through the Committee in Arizona in the last month with the backing of the state's two Republican senators, and the only members of Congress quoted by Politico as having a problem with the blue slip process were in the White House and the House of Representatives. According to the Constitution, it is the Senate that confirms nominees.
Leahy went so far as to demur in a New York Times article examining how pro-abortion and other liberal groups are furious at the White House for allowing Georgia's two senators to have blue slip influence on nominees in their state. Michael Boggs, a Court of Appeals judge, was a pro-life Democratic legislator who sponsored pro-life legislation in 2000 and 2004, and voted to retain a Georgia state flag with the Confederate flag on it. Mark Cohen successfully defended a voter ID law in Georgia.
Georgia's senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, are generally considered far more conservative than Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake. In the article, Leahy said that “if the president sends up a nominee, they ought to at least get a hearing, and we will see where we go from there.” He also stated that he is “not committed one way or the other,” noting that Georgia's GOP senators have a deal “with the president, not me.”
The Senate aide said the White House was exaggerating the difficulties faced by nominees, noting that “it’s intellectually dishonest for the White House to select the most controversial candidate and act like they’re the only one who could do the job.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told LifeSiteNews, “Senate Democrats should encourage the White House to work with Republican Senators.” He said Democrats should “not give-in to the short-sighted demands of those on the far-left who want to ram through liberal activists who would impose their own policy preferences, rather than follow the Constitution."
In 2003, then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-UT, began to ignore the blue slip tradition, holding hearings even if the slips were not returned. Done as a form of punishment for Democrats who were holding up President George Bush's nominees, the tradition was reinstated by Leahy after Democrats took the Senate in 2007.