‘Fundamentally undemocratic,’ ‘in the way of excellent people’: blue slips under fire

This morning, the New York Times editorial board published a scathing editorial calling for Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin to stop allowing Republicans to abuse the blue slip tradition to block qualified judicial nominees. They join a growing group of political leaders, legal experts, and media commentators criticizing the abuse of blue slips and calling for reform. 

The New York Times editorial board: “That home-state veto is a fundamentally undemocratic practice that gives far too much power to individual senators. … [Durbin] could unilaterally end this blue-slip custom at any time without requiring any kind of vote or radically upending an important Senate practice. … It’s far past time for Mr. Durbin to do so.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS): “I think [Democrats] have basically allowed the custom to get in the way of excellent people being able to serve in those prestigious positions. I think they are acquiescing to an arcane custom that, in this instance, has no basis in law to start with.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT): “Republicans have made a mockery of the blue slip system.”

Senior Democratic congressional aide: Congressional Black Caucus members are “very, very disturbed about the whole situation with blue slips because they feel like their communities in the South delivered this White House.”

Former Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL): “I’m getting pretty close” to supporting getting rid of blue slips.

American Constitution Society President Russ Feingold: Democrats would be “chumps” if they honored the blue slip veto system now knowing that Republicans will almost certainly eliminate it for district judges if they take control of the Senate after the 2024 elections.

Former American Constitution Society President Caroline Fredrickson and Alan Neff: “It’s time – long past time – to get rid of the ‘blue slip.’ The blue slip is an opaque – and inherently obstructionist – Senate tradition. … If federal trial judges are going to be appointed only on a hyper-partisan basis (assuming Republicans continue to honor the blue-slip process if they retake control of the Senate or the White House in 2024), we can confidently predict more, rather than less “forum-shopping” in the future.”

Norman Ornstein: Letting Republicans block Biden nominees with blue slips would be “a big mistake. Pat Leahy let Republicans get away with murder using the blue slip to preserve the norm. And Grassley jettisoned it as soon as he could.”

The New Republic’s Matt Ford: Blue slip abolition “would help bring the judicial confirmation process closer to something resembling democracy.”

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern: “It’s absurd that Dems are allowing this obstructionism.”

Former U.S. Attorney (Northern District of Alabama), Joyce Vance: “The worst problem with blue slips isn’t with candidates who’ve already been nominated, it’s the reluctance to nominate candidates in red states, knowing senators will withhold them. In those states, vacancies pile up, waiting for future GOP administrations.”