Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell walked back his announced intention to eliminate a longtime tool of bipartisanship in the Senate by doing away with blue slips — something that Republicans used and abused in order to block former President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees during his time in office.
McConnell had told The Weekly Standard on Tuesday that he planned on removing the importance of blue slips, rendering them as a symbolic gesture as opposed to a procedural mechanism. But McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart, told HuffPost on Wednesday that the Republican Party did not intend on eliminating blue slips.
The blue slip is not a rule per se, but more of a tradition — a 100-year-old tradition that has been observed by both parties to ensure that the president consults with senators on judicial nominations from their states. It fulfills the Senate's constitutional duty to provide “advice and consent” to the president when it comes to filling permanent spots on the federal judiciary.
In the past, senators could bar nominations by not submitting their blue slips to the Senate Judiciary Committee. During the Obama administration, Senate Republicans blocked 18 judicial nominees through blue slips.
Republicans will now treat blue slips “as simply notification of how you’re going to vote, not as an opportunity to blackball,” McConnell told The Weekly Standard Tuesday.
An irate Sen. Chuck Schumer addressed McConnell's ploy on Wednesday.
“The Senate has fewer and fewer mechanisms that create bipartisanship and bring people to an agreement. The blue slips are one of them,” Schumer said in a statement. When Democrats controlled the Senate, they had an opportunity to end blue slips, but refused to do so.
“It’s just a shame that Senator McConnell is willing to abandon it for circuit court judges. We hope that [Judiciary] Chairman [Chuck] Grassley, who has always believed in the traditions of the Senate, will resist Senator McConnell’s request,” Schumer’s statement continued.
Democrats have only refused to turn in blue slips to stall two judicial nominees in President Donald Trump's tenure. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, for example, opposed Trump’s appeals court picks, Ryan Bounds. In Minnesota, meanwhile, Sen. Al Franken also refused to hand in his blue slip on a judicial nomination, while his senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, believed the judge deserved a hearing in the Senate.
During the previous administration, Republicans obstructed 18 of Obama's judicial appointments, including six circuit-court judges.
McConnell's move to water down blue slips would only enable Trump to freely form the judiciary to his own liking.