A sad headline to write. And unlikely, but true. Our own St. Patrick, chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, has stirred the ire of left-wing advocacy groups over his adherence to Senate tradition.
Credo Action, a liberal group with a mailing list of over three million, has sent an email blast targeting Leahy who, in spite of a 100% prochoice voting record (according to both NARAL and Planned Parenthood), is enabling obstructionist Republicans in their efforts to block President Obama’s judicial nominees.
As the email lays out, Leahy has thus far refused to abandon a relic of a largely dismantled patronage system known as the “blue slip,” which allows a single senator to effectively veto anyone nominated to a federal judgeship in their state.
The immediate consequence:
Georgia’s two Republican Senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, wielded the blue slip to pressure the White House into a lopsided deal that includes four judges chosen by the Republican lawmakers and only two selected by President Obama.
One of the Senators’ nominees is Michael Boggs, who has a record of opposing reproductive rights and marriage equality because he wants to “stand up for Christian values.” This week, 27 progressive groups sent a letter to Democrats on the Judiciary Committee urging them to vote against Boggs. Now, Credo is directly targeting Leahy for refusing to modify (or dump) the blue slip rule. Or, as Credo put it:
Tell Senator Patrick Leahy: We need judges who will protect a woman’s right to choose – stop allowing rightwing senators to blackball President Obama’s pro-choice nominees to the federal judiciary.
The “blue slip” tradition, according to ThinkProgress, has its origins in an earlier Senate era:
Although the Constitution gives the president power to name judges “with the advice and consent of the Senate,” for much of American history lower court judgeships were often treated as little more than patronage jobs to be doled out by senators.
… Two relics from the old patronage days remain, however. The first is that seats on the federal appeals courts are considered bound to a particular state. …The second is the “blue slip” process, which allows a single senator to prevent a judicial nominee from their home state from receiving a committee hearing, effectively vetoing the nomination.
This is one of the few shortcomings of having a Senator with a whole lot of seniority: he tends to be loyal to the arcane ways of the World’s Most August Boys’ Club.
And this, in spite of the fact that the blue slip rule was ignored the last time the Republicans ran the Senate:
In 2003, for example, when Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) took over as Judiciary chair and George W. Bush was president, Hatch largely abandoned the blue slip rule. According to the Congressional Research Service, “[a] return of a negative blue slip by one or both home-state Senators d[id] not prevent the committee from moving forward with the nomination – provided that the Administration engaged in pre-nomination consultation with both of the home-state Senators,” during Hatch’s tenure.
So Leahy has a decision to make. Support one of the Senate’s most obscure and useless rules, or clear the way for more Obama nominees to be confirmed.
The clock is ticking. The Republicans stand a good chance of regaining a Senate majority in November. Should that happen, we’ll see a whole lot of judicial vacancies lingering on and on, as the Republicans try to stall until the 2016 election.