Conservatives Urge Grassley to Stop Democrats from Blocking Trump Judicial Nominees

Zenny Phuong | July 12, 2017 | 11:15am EDT
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(Photo: Street Leverage.) 

( – Conservatives groups such as the Judicial Crisis Network and the Heritage Foundation are asking Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to move forward and confirm President Donald Trump’s nominations for federal court vacancies.

Currently, there are 136 empty seats with 15 pending nominees, according to the U.S. Courts website, and among those is Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen, who was appointed by President Trump to the 6th Circuit Court.

However, the Senate Judiciary Committee is still waiting for a return of the blue slip, a blue-paper form allowing the home-state senators to express their positive or negative view of the nominee, from Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich) and Gary Peters (D-Mich) before taking action on Larsen’s nomination.

The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) has launched a $140,000 ad campaign “calling out the state's Democrat senators” for apaprently dragging their feet on the nominee.

Carrie Severino, director of the Judicial Crisis Network.  (Screenshot.) 

The blue slip is “not a one-man filibuster,” said JCN Director Carrie Severino. “The Michigan senators are abusing the process.”

According to the American Constitution Society, a blue slip is just a traditional way the Senate Judiciary Committee show courtesy to home-state senators, but it is the chairman of the committee who will make the ultimate decision.

Jack Beermann, a Boston University professor of law, said he sees nothing wrong with the committee respecting this tradition.

“They left the Supreme Court seat open for almost a year,” Beermann said. “It’s nothing new. There’s no crisis.”

But Severino said she thinks the honoring of the blue slip process shouldn’t become a “roadblock” to the confirmation proceedings.

Sens. Stabenow and Peters told the Detroit News that they are still reviewing Larsen’s record, including a 64-page questionnaire that was received June 2. They also said they encourage Larsen’s supporters to continue submitting constructive input. reached out to both senators for comment but did not receive a response.

Joan Larsen is “no dark horse,” Severino said. “She’s been sitting on the Michigan Supreme Court, who just ran a campaign and was reelected to that position, so there’s no problem with finding information.”

Severino said she believes there has been enough time for due-diligence on Justice Larsen. John Malcolm, the Heritage Foundation vice president for the Institute for Constitutional Government, said he does not blame the Judicial Crisis Network for “pointing out the fact that there was no good reason for delay in the case of Joan Larsen.”

Michigan Supreme Court Justice

Joan Larsen. 

“I think there is no question that the Democrats are slow-walking a lot of the president’s nominees, including a lot of his nominees for judicial appointments,” Malcolm said. “She’s been overwhelmingly re-elected by the citizens of Michigan, so I wouldn’t think that due diligence on Joan Larson would take terribly long.”

Beermann agrees that the process has been politicized.

“The qualifications are secondary to the politics because the federal courts make so many political decisions. So this is not surprising at all,” Beermann said.

But he does not think the Trump administration’s nominees were first to experience these “political decisions.” It also took place during the Obama administration, he said.

President Barack Obama made 333 judicial appointments during his tenure and George W. Bush did three fewer, according to Ballotpedia.

The White House sent out remarks by President Obama in June 2013 saying, “my judicial nominees have waited three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) 

“The Republicans were slowing the process down and dragging their feet,” Beermann said. “They refused to confirm many of the nominees [President Obama appointed] and it had happened before with George W. Bush -- the Democrats did it to him.”

Severino is concerned with the rest of the empty judicial positions and feared that Larsen might only be the first victim of a bigger opposition.

“They certainly wouldn’t stop with this seat; I think you’ll see them continue to block every single one of Trump’s nominees for his entire time in office,” Severino said. “We want to make sure that Justice Larsen is not their test case for trying to weaponize the blue slips process.”

Beermann, however, said even though no president gets all of his nominees confirmed, he believes Trump should bode well with his selections.

“With Republican control of the Senate and the presidency, and with the end of the filibuster," he said, "chances are that just about anyone Trump nominates is going to get confirmed at some point, if Trump wants.”

But without the ability to filibuster, the minority party is turning to the blue slip process because  the honoring of this tradition has varied through Senate history, Malcolm said.

“Sometimes it’s been given preclusive effect, in which the blue slip process is honored completely and other times it’s been ignored and other times it’s been given ‘substantial weight,’ but it has not held off nominees from consideration,” Malcolm said.

Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner. (Heritage Foundation.) 

Heritage Foundation President Edwin Feulner also wrote an open letter on Friday asking members of the Senate to expedite the confirmation processes.

“I’m more than a little frustrated right now,” Feulner wrote in a newsletter. “I can’t stand it when people don’t do their job. The Senate is not doing its job.”

Part of Feulner’s letter reads as follows:

“I’ve done my job by electing a President who has vowed to uphold the Constitution.

“The Heritage Foundation has done its job by recommending candidates with exemplary character, extensive experience to serve in the capacity of federal judge or justice.

“Now I demand that you do your job and confirm committed constitutionalists to fill these vacancies. Every day that goes by without a committed constitutionalist serving in one of these positions is a disgrace and a mark on your record as Senators.”

Beermann said the Heritage Foundation had led the charge against confirming any Obama nominees at the end of his term.

“It’s not about confirming the president’s nominees, but confirming the nominees you like based on their politics,” Beermann said.

Malcolm defended Mitch McConnell’s action in the Obama administration when he warned the president against making a nomination toward the end of his term.

“With respect to filling the vacancy, what Mitch McConnell did was hardly surprising since it was following a precedent that had been established by then Senator Joe Biden when George H. W. Bush was president, and then by Chuck Schumer when George W. Bush was president.”

Beermann said since both sides have slowly politicalized the process, they will have to suffer the consequences.

“And that is the other side is going to fight like crazy when they’re in the minority,” Beermann said. “The most important point is both sides, when they’re out of power they adopt the stalling technique and when they’re in power they complain about it.”

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