Bye-bye, blue slips
President Trump is re-shaping the federal judiciary, beginning the "rightward shift" that liberals fear.
Only President Bill Clinton had more initial vacancies, with 111. By contrast, Obama found only 54 lower-court vacancies when he took office, while President George W. Bush had 84. Trump's starting batch of 107 represents 12 percent of all 890 federal judicial positions.
Those vacancies, and the ones to come as more judges retire (the number has already jumped to 136 in the six months since inauguration) offer Trump the chance to sculpt the courts to his liking.
Now that the filibuster has been abolished for judicial nominations, the only obstacle to re-populating the federal bench with judges who believe in following what the law actually says is the arcane Senate practice of "blue slips," under which a senator from the judicial nominee's state can torpedo a nomination by withholding a "blue slip" signifying acceptance. Alex Swoyer of the Washington Times explains why this obstacle may soon vanish, thanks to Senator Chuck Grassley:
No Democrat has yet returned a "blue slip" signaling acceptance of President Trump's federal judicial picks – an ominous sign for Republicans, who fear it signals an upcoming attempt to slow-walk the administration's plans to reshape the federal judiciary.
Democrats have suggested that blame lies with the White House. They say Mr. Trump's aides haven't done enough to consult with them before announcing nominations to fill federal appeals court vacancies.
The White House, though, said it has gone to great lengths to try to rope Democrats in early in the process, with frequent outreach, only to be met by dilatory tactics.
"The administration has been seeking consultation from home-state senators for months – even as senators frequently fail to return our calls, don't respond to our inquiries and otherwise avoid our constant overtures," said a Trump administration official who asked not to be identified in order to speak about private communications.
The issue is about to come to a head, as Senate Republicans will soon have to decide whether to proceed with several key circuit court picks over the reticence of home-state Democratic senators.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, has signaled that he may alter adherence to the blue slip policy, which is a tradition giving senators a sort of veto over judges picked from their home states who don't meet with their approval.
It's about time.
Hat tip: Richard Baehr