A Hypocritical Battle Over Blue Slips

Republican senators exploited their blue slips with abandon, and with little or no explanation. One senator blocked a nominee because she had once said the Constitution did not protect an individual right to bear arms — an accurate description of the uncertainty about the law at the time. Other senators blocked nominees they had previously approved for other courts, or even recommended to the White House themselves. In all, 18 of Mr. Obama’s judicial nominees were scuttled, including six to the Courts of Appeals. That’s not counting dozens more vacancies that languished for years without a nominee because senators made it clear they would object to anyone.

This abuse of blue slips led many, including this page, to call for an end to the practice, but Mr. Leahy continued it — as did Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, who became chairman of the Judiciary Committee after Republicans won the Senate in 2014. President Trump now has 144 vacancies to fill on the federal bench, many as a direct result of Republican intransigence during the Obama era. So it’s particularly rich, if not surprising, for Republicans to urge its demise.

What led them to this? In short, the same behavior that they had engaged in with impunity. This month, Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, refused to return his blue slip for David Stras, a well-respected but very conservative justice on the state’s Supreme Court whom Mr. Trump nominated to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Last week, Oregon’s two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, opposed another of Mr. Trump’s appeals court picks, Ryan Bounds.

Unlike their Republican counterparts, however, these Democrats provided a clear explanation for their opposition: The White House, they said, made no meaningful effort to consult with them before making nominations. Mr. Wyden and Mr. Merkley said Mr. Trump had completely bypassed Oregon’s well-established bipartisan selection committee.

These are fair complaints. The Constitution gives the president the power to choose federal judges, but only with the “advice and consent” of the Senate. In an earlier era of relative comity and good faith, the blue-slip tradition may have helped to ensure that advice was considered. But in this toxic, hyperpartisan age, there’s no simple way to force a president to listen.

And that is not a minor matter. Any president, not least one who lost the popular vote by almost three million votes, should…

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