Is Obama Flouting Traditional Bipartisan Traditions?

Posted: Jan 25, 2011 12:01 AM
Is Obama Flouting Traditional Bipartisan Traditions?

As the process of approving judges begins again in the new Senate, the Obama administration may have missed a chance for bipartisan outreach at the process’ outset.

Of all the judicial nominees re-submitted to the Senate in January, 10 nominees came from states that had newly-elected senators: Connecticut, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois. Yet only one newly-elected senator’s office confirmed any contact with the administration on the judicial nominations.

For the administration to consult with the nominee’s home state senators is customary and good business, since each one receives a blue slip from the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee. If a senator refuses to send the blue slip back, the chairman traditionally will not hold hearings on the nominee in committee.

Though there’s no actual law saying the chairman can’t hold the hearing, it’s a strong Senate precedent, and one that current judiciary committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, has been supportive of. In fact, he made the process public.

“Requiring the support of home State Senators is a traditional mechanism to encourage the White House to engage in meaningful consultation with the Senate,” Leahy said back in 2008, one Republican committee staffer found.

Leahy’s office confirmed he plans to continue his commitment to the blue slip process in the current Senate, which may not be the best news for the nominees, since most of the new home-state senators have not been consulted by the administration on the topic.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s office confirmed that the administration did not consult them about the two re-submitted nominees from Florida. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson from Wisconsin was also not consulted regarding his state’s nominee. Democrat Sen. Rick Blumenthal’s office did not respond to Townhall’s inquiry.

“It is imperative that we have a framework to guarantee that judicial nominees are highly qualified, ethical individuals worthy of confirmation,” said Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania in a statement to, though he did not specifically say whether he had been consulted about the three nominees from Pennsylvania. “I look forward to reviewing the credentials of all judicial nominees submitted to the Senate and working to ensure the appropriate framework is in place.”

Sen. Mark Kirk’s office, meanwhile, has been in ongoing consultation with fellow Illinois Sen. Dick Durban and the administration to catch up regarding state-related issues, including judicial nominations.

Johnson, who replaced Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold this January, expressed surprise earlier in January at not being consulted by the administration.

“My understanding of the standard procedure in the judicial nomination process is that the [a]dministration extends the courtesy of consulting the home state [s]enators before nominating an individual to the courts,” Johnson said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate in this case that the voters of Wisconsin who expressed their wishes on November 2nd were completely ignored.”