Obstruction and delay has been one of the right’s go-to plays in opposition to President Obama’s administration. Instead of governing, extremist Republicans have used the political tactic of shutdown in an attempt to stop the core functions of our government. The GOP obstruction of the judicial nominations process is a clear example of how far the right will go to stop progress.
Since President Obama was elected, Senate Republicans often blocked President Obama’s nominees with no justification at all. They blocked nearly as many of President Obama’s nominees as all previous Presidents’ nominees combined. In response, Democrats in the Senate voted to reform the rules in the senate to ensure that judicial nominees with majority support are entitled to receive a simple yes or no vote in the Senate.
Unfortunately, however, even after this needed reform, Republicans in the Senate continue to do all that they can to block qualified judges from getting appointed to our nation’s federal courts, preventing us from having a fair, functioning, and diverse judiciary.
Senate Republicans are using the following tactics in an attempt to stop the President from exercising his constitutional duty to fill vacant seats on our nation’s federal courts.
Abuse of the “Blue Slip”
Once a judicial nomination is made, the Senate Judiciary Committee sends a “blue slip” – correspondence printed on light blue paper – to each senator from the state where the vacancy would be filled if the nominee were confirmed. By “returning” a blue slip, Senators indicate their approval of the nominee. In recent years, blue slip approval from a home state senator has been a de facto requirement to move forward with a candidate. If just one senator does not return his or her blue slip, all committee action on a judicial nominee comes to a halt: no hearings, no votes. This effectively gives one Senator veto power, even if the other 99 in the Senate approve of a nominee.
Failure to Recommend Candidates to the President
Because of the veto threat of the blue slip, the White House generally defers to the recommendations of home state Senators. The selection process can be slowed if home state senators fail to timely recommend candidates and GOP obstructionists have used this delay tactic to stop President Obama from making an impact on their state’s federal courts. Take, for example, the unconscionable delay of Texas’ Senators. As of February 2014, nine Texas judicial seats were sitting vacant for more than 6,000 days – nearly 16 and a half YEARS total – because Senators Cornyn and Cruz have refused to submit recommendations to the President. One seat alone, in the Western District of Texas, has sat vacant for over 1900 days – nearly five and a half years. The result? Without judges to hear cases, cases back up and Americans lack access to their courts.
GOP Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee can Delay Hearings and Committee Votes
Perhaps the most appalling of the obstruction tactics is the ability of the GOP to stop progress on judicial nominees by simply not doing their job.
Not holding hearings: Now that Republicans control the Senate, they also control the Senate Judiciary Committee and have the power to schedule the hearings that they want. It is in their hands whether they are willing to confirm needed judicial nominees or slow the process to a halt.
Holding over the vote: The first time a committee vote is scheduled on a nominee, any member of the Senate Judiciary Committee can delay the vote until the committee’s next executive business meeting (usually one week, but sometimes much longer), without reason. Since President Obama has taken office, this has become routine.
Demanding Full Debate Time: According to Senate rules, a certain amount of debate time can be demanded, even if all of that time is not consistently used for actual debate. That means that Senators can put a halt to business by requiring the Senate to use up all of these hours despite the fact that many judicial nominees receive support from home state Senators and are likely to be confirmed by the Senate as a whole.
The American people want Washington to get back to work rather than play partisan political games. Tell your Senators to stop obstruction for obstruction’s sake and that President Obama’s qualified judicial nominees deserve timely yes or no votes!