Democrats objected vociferously Wednesday as two of President Donald Trump's appellate court judicial nominees appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing Republicans of bucking a long-standing tradition: the blue slip.
The blue slip process typically delays or derails hearings for the federal bench unless both senators from the nominee's home-state consent to the President's pick. Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken is withholding his blue slip for David Stras. Stras currently sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court and was nominated in May for a seat on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"I do not think that the Senate should cede its power to the executive branch and end this long-standing custom," Franken said. Franken said he was minimally consulted by the White House on Stras' nomination, and was only granted two meetings with staff from the White House Counsel's office.
"In light of the White House's disrespect for the Senate's constitutional role, I voiced my objection using the only means available to me, by withholding my blue slip," Franken explained. Franken has previously said he objects to Stras' staunchly conservative views, issuing a lengthy statement explaining that he fears Stras' "views and philosophy would lead him to reinforce those divisions and steer the already conservative 8th Circuit even further to the right."
Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, moved forward with Stras' hearing Wednesday, explaining that he refused to treat blue slips "as a single-senator veto." Democrats, however, pointed out that Grassley refused to hold hearings on ten of then-President Barack Obama's nominees from 2015 to 2016 because they didn't have two blue slips.
Top Democrat on the committee Dianne Feinstein highlighted the apparent hypocrisy.
"The Democrats on this committee are simply asking for blue slips to be respected, just as they were for Republican senators," Feinstein said. "All we ask is to be treated the same way in the Trump administration as Republican senators were treated in the Obama administration. No more, no less."
Grassley defended his move, noting that previous Judiciary Committee chairmen have also moved forward with hearings in circumstances where two blue slips weren't returned. And then Grassley punched back, pointing out that Democrats, too, have bucked tradition.
"It's also revealing that these same colleagues and groups supported abolishing the filibuster for lower court nominees in 2013, a Senate rule that was more longstanding and established than my immediate predecessors' strict blue slip policy," Grassley argued.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended Grassley's move, saying blue slips should not be used to block nominees' consideration.
"Perhaps our Democratic colleagues now feel buyer's remorse over the change to Senate Rules they jammed through this body. But they should not be allowed to use the committee's blue slip courtesy -- which is neither a committee rule, nor a Senate Rule -- as another way to block the consideration of nominees with majority support," the Kentucky Republican said.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz applauded Grassley's decision to move forward with the hearing despite Franken's blue-slip objection.
"I think your decision on the blue slips was exactly the right decision to make," Cruz said. "Sen. Franken's public objections to him have been, not that he is unqualified, but rather that he's a member of the Federalist Society, that he's clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas and that he has said supportive things of Justice (Antonin) Scalia. I do not think that should bar the committee from considering his nomination."