Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wasted no time as the new Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday as he held votes for 44 federal judicial nominees, all of whom were successfully approved and passed on to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote.
Democratic Senators on the committee continued obstructing the President's nominees by using every procedural roadblock available to them, including limiting the time the committee could meet, making long speeches, and forcing roll call votes on more than three dozen of the nominees.
Chairman Graham's decision, as an administrative matter, to continue the "blue slip" policies of the previous Chairman, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), drew the ire of committee Democrats. Grassley had discontinued the blue slip policy for appeals courts nominees, so long as the White House has attempted to communicate with home state senators over nominees, even if unsuccessfully. Graham simply followed that lead—here's an explanation of what this means.
The committee's blue slip tradition has varied from Chairman to Chairman over the years, but involves the privilege of home state senators (for judicial seats appointed within their states) to approve or disapprove of judicial nominees by returning the blue slip questionnaire (Do you approve or not approve?) to the Chairman. Withholding a blue slip accomplished the same thing as a written disapproval. In times past, that may or may not have ended a nomination, depending on how a particular Chairman interpreted and applied that particular Senate blue slip tradition.
For district court nominees, whose jurisdiction lies entirely within one state, the blue slip process makes sense, and ensures that home state senators have a voice in what federal judges are nominated and approved for their state, because it forces the President to work with those senators to nominate judges who have some connection to the state and understand its legal landscape.
Appeals court judges do not serve just one state. For example, judges on the 9th Circuit decide cases coming from any of the nine states within its circuit, plus two territories. There is no compelling reason why any seat on an appellate court should be controlled by any given state, yet, unfortunately, that is the system that evolved over time. And it's another "tradition" of the Senate that has been unfairly wielded as a "veto" over appeals court nominees.
Given the polarized political times in which we live, each political party has re-thought and re-shaped Senate traditions to promote the confirmation of their President's nominees. For example, in 2013 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) invoked the "nuclear option" in which he revised Senate procedural rules to require only 51 votes, rather than 60, for judicial nominees to district and appellate courts. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-TN) used the same procedural move in 2017 to extend the nuclear option to include Supreme Court justices.
The Judiciary Committee also voted 12-10, along party lines, to advance the nomination of William Barr as U.S. Attorney General. Barr previously served as Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993, and is 68 years old.