The latest GOP tactic for blocking and delaying judicial nominations has pushed Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy into considering changes in committee rules to combat the increasing obstruction. For a committee chairman who has bent over backwards to respect the prerogatives of the minority party, this is a monumental development.
This afternoon, with hearings scheduled on five consensus nominees from four states, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee invoked a seldom-used Senate rule that prevents committees from meeting if the Senate has been in session for more than two hours. This, on top of the previous few weeks of nonstop committee obstruction, provoked Sen. Leahy to respond. In response to today's action, Leahy revealed that he is now considering changes to how he runs the committee:
Just last week, Republicans prevented the Judiciary Committee from holding an executive business meeting to consider 18 highly qualified nominees, including two Texas U.S. Marshals. Those two nominees should have been approved by the Committee last month, but Republicans failed to attend the meeting to report their nominations. As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I have consistently shown my commitment to work with all Senators to process nominations. This obstruction sets back the bipartisan cooperation we have seen in recent weeks on such legislative matters as the budget, the defense authorization bill, and the Farm Bill. If this obstruction continues with respect to judicial nominees, I will be forced to reconsider long-held policies that have upheld the rights of the minority party in this process.
Among the “long-held policies” that is most in need of examination is the blue-slip process. It is not a rule of the Senate or of the Judiciary Committee, but is simply a practice of the chairman that has changed over the years. Leahy's policy is that until both of a nominee's home-state senators signal their approval for letting the committee process a nomination, he will not even schedule a hearing. This was his policy when George W. Bush was president, and he did not change it when a Democrat became president. Unfortunately, Republicans have met his even-handedness with obstruction. Nevada's Elissa Cadish, Kansas' Steve Six, Georgia's Natasha Perdew Silas, and Wisconsin's Victoria Nourse and Louis Butler are just a few of the highly qualified Obama nominees who have been prevented from serving on the federal bench by GOP abuse of the blue slip policy.
Perhaps no better example of abuse of the policy can be found than Florida's William Thomas, a current nominee who was recommended by Marco Rubio, then denied a blue slip by the senator on the most transparently flimsy of reasons. Yet Leahy has maintained his policy and allowed Rubio to block a hearing on Thomas. Rubio has not been forced to defend his absurd allegations in public, and Thomas has been denied the chance to defend and explain his record. That isn't how a committee of the world's greatest deliberative body should function.
There are many ways that Leahy can reform the blue slip policy. But whether it should be reformed seems to no longer be in doubt.