Trump skips Senate tradition, leans on right-wing organizations to help fill federal court seats

Groups like The Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society now get more say than home state senators

By Charlie May

Published May 11, 2017 9:23PM (EDT)

 (Reuters/Lucas Jackson/AP/Evan Vucci/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Lucas Jackson/AP/Evan Vucci/Photo montage by Salon)

The Trump administration has the ability to leave a lasting influence on the courts by filling vacancies across the country, but the president appears to be bypassing some senators and outsourcing nominations to right-wing groups such as The Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society — the same groups that helped draft his list of potential candidates for the Supreme Court.

On Monday President Trump nominated 10 people for federal judgeships and will look to continue to fill an extraordinary number of vacancies, according to NPR. Due to years of Republicans obstructing nominations, there are over 100 open seats that Trump could potentially fill.

Trump has been given the opportunity to fill more than double the vacancies that former President Barack Obama was able to. During his final two years in office, the Senate only confirmed 20 of Obama's nominees. Typically, previous presidents have been able to confirm many more.

"President Trump certainly has a very good opportunity early on to have an impact on the federal bench," John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation told NPR. But it appears that the president is skipping an important Senate process in his quest to pack the bench with conservative jurists.

A long-time unofficial rule in the Senate known as the "blue-slip" tradition gives Senators the opportunity to "block a judicial candidate from his or home state by simply not returning a blue slip to the Judiciary Committee," according to Politico. When Trump nominated Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he felt he wasn't properly consulted beforehand.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said he may want to get rid of the "blue-slip" rule if the Democrats start abusing it.

"I think the blue slip tradition can be helpful if it encourages the White House to consult in advance with senators," Cotton recently told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. "But we can’t allow Democratic senators to continue to obstruct this president’s agenda. If they’re just arbitrarily not returning blue slips, we have to consider changing that tradition to one of its past other forms."

Michele Jawando, Vice President for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress condemned Trump's ignoring of home-state senators. "President Trump has—time and time again—demonstrated that he is threatened by an independent judiciary and that he wants to fill scores of vacancies with right-wing ideologues. To do this, the administration is blatantly disregarding a century of tradition by bypassing senators from the states where these vacancies exist," she said in a press release.

She added that Franken "said he was not meaningfully consulted, and he is concerned that the nomination of Minnesota Judge David Stras was “the product of a process that relied heavily on guidance from far-right Washington, DC-based special interest groups—rather than through a committee made up of a cross-section of Minnesota’s legal community.” Stras has a conservative record and once wrote that the Supreme Court’s “ventures into contentious areas of social policy—such as school integration, abortion, and homosexual rights—have raised the stakes of confirmation battles."

Charlie May

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