Legislative 101

Legislative Process 101—Blue Slips


Trump is trying to pack the courts with extreme judges, and Senate Republicans are trying to blow up 100 years of tradition to help him do it.

Donald Trump has nominated several extremely conservative judges to fill the vacancies in the court system. But he can’t single-handedly push through nominees—the Senate has to sign off on them.

There’s a little-known process called “blue slips” that lets individual senators weigh in on the judges nominated to serve in their state. It’s a key part of the checks and balances that protect against absolute power in the hands of the president.

Unfortunately, right-wing groups and some Senate Republicans have indicated they want to abandon 100 years of tradition and eliminate this key check on Trump’s power. We can’t let that happen.

WHAT ARE BLUE SLIPS?

The Constitution requires the President to seek the Senate’s “advice and consent” on judicial nominations. As part of this process, the Senate holds hearings to evaluate the nominees, then votes on whether or not to confirm them.

Home-state Senators are allowed to weigh-in on judicial nominations. One key tradition as part of the Senate’s “advice and consent” process is that the two senators representing the nominee’s state are given “blue slips”—actual blue pieces of paper on which they can register support or concerns about the nominee. This has been the custom in the Senate for a century.

Traditionally, judicial nominees don’t move forward for hearings and confirmation unless both senators return positive blue slips. With only three exceptions, the Senate has respected this tradition for 100 years and refused to advance nominees without buy-in from each home state senator. In fact, a judge has never been confirmed over the objections of both home state senators.

Republicans frequently withheld their blue slips in order to block judicial nominees during the Obama administration—and both Democrats and Republicans respected that process. No Obama administration district or court nominee received a Judiciary Committee hearing unless both home state senators returned positive blue slips for them, even when Democrats were in charge. That’s why there were more than 120 vacancies to fill when Trump took office.

Now that we’re under the Trump administration, Democrats are using the blue slips process to resist the nominations of Trump’s most ideological judges - and Republicans are suddenly objecting.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Our democracy rests on a system of checks and balances. The blue slips process is an important mechanism that ensures that the American people, through their senators, have a say in which judges serve in their state. Federal judgeships are for life and make decisions that affect everyone—it is crucial that unqualified and problematic nominees don’t get the job.

The Trump administration has already demonstrated a contempt for the court system and a disrespect for the integrity of our democratic norms. If the Senate were to cave on blue slips, it would set a terrible precedent that could allow this and future administrations to jam through controversial judicial nominees and override the concerns of the American people.

THIS ISN’T A HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO

The White House, conservative media outlets, and far-right groups are already lobbying Senate Republicans to abandon the blue slips process and push through Trump’s nominees. Look no further than the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which recommends just that.

A number of Democratic senators have used the blue slip process exactly as it is intended, to review the merit of judicial nominees, and to register any concerns they may have. This isn’t obstruction - it’s the constitutional practice of “advice and consent” in action.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be hearing from right-wing groups and their donors, urging him to abandon the blue slips tradition and advance Trump’s nominees no matter what.

SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Senators need to speak up right now. The far right will be clamoring to abolish the blue slip process, and it’s essential for us to push back. This is one of the few mechanisms in place that allow senators to block bad nominees from moving forward, and it must be preserved.

Call your senators. Ask them to publicly urge Chairman Grassley and Majority Leader McConnell to respect the blue slips process, and not to hold hearings or votes on judicial nominees unless both home senators have returned positive blue slips for them. It’s a simple equation: no blue slips = no hearings.

Track Trump’s nominees here. Indivisible East Bay is closely following this fight and is updating this tracker live with updates. Take a look at their resources for more information here Reach out to them for more information at judiciary+team@indivisibleeb.org.
Call Now!

SAMPLE SCRIPT

Caller: Hi! My name is [name] and I’m a constituent calling from [part of state]. I’m calling about Trump’s judicial nominations—I’m very concerned at the deeply conservative and ideological nominees that he is attempting to put in the courts, and I’m even more concerned that the Senate might break tradition to let him do it. Does Senator [name] support respecting the blue slips process that allows home senators to register concerns about judges in their states before they get a hearing or confirmation vote?

Staffer: I’m not sure if Senator [name] has a firm position on that issue, but I’ll be sure to share your concerns with [him/her].

Caller: I think it’s very straightforward—while Obama was president, no judicial nominees moved forward until both home senators returned positive blue slips, which are documents with their thoughts on the nominee. This has been a Senate tradition for 100 years—Senator [name] will continue to support that tradition, right?

Staffer: Again, I’ll have to speak with the senator but will make sure [he/she] is aware of your perspective.

Caller: I want to hear the Senator commit to uphold this process and publicly urge Chairman Grassley to respect it, too. The Constitution requires the Senate to give “advice and consent” on judicial nominees, and this a key part of the system of checks and balances. If we abandon this, we could be in real trouble this and future presidents.

Staffer: I will relay that to the senator.

Caller: Thank you, I’ll be looking for the senator’s statement in support of the blue slips process and [his/her] opposition to hearings on any of Trump’s nominations that don’t respect this process.