The collapse of the U.S. Senate as a place for reasonable people to meet and solve problems continues. This time, it involves appointments to the federal bench.
Recently, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said he would hold a hearing on a judicial nominee even though he had not received a “blue slip” from both of senators in the nominee’s home state.
Under long Senate tradition, home state senators must literally send a blue slip of paper to the Judiciary Committee chairman before a nomination can proceed. That’s true even when one or both senators belong to a different political party than the chairman, or the president.
Requiring a blue slip was seen as a way to ensure some bipartisanship in judicial selections.
Sen. Al Franken refused to return a blue slip for David Stras, a nominee for the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Missouri. Grassley said he’d go forward anyway, infuriating some Democrats.
Had this been an isolated incident, it would not have drawn our attention. Blue slip controversies are rare, but they happen.
But this latest episode confirms the dramatic erosion of comity when it comes to the federal bench. If it isn’t stopped, America’s faith in an impartial judiciary may vanish.
There’s finger-pointing on both sides. Some say the politicization of Supreme Court nominations began during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Others insist it began with the Robert Bork nomination in 1987, or the Clarence Thomas nomination in 1991.
It is undeniable, though, that Senate anger and distrust has now spread to lower-court nominees. This blue-slip battle, and the hand-to-hand combat over other nominees, may be the result of lingering anger over Sen. Mitch McConnell’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland for the high court.
The Democratic decision to eliminate the 60-vote requirement for lower court nominees may have played a part in McConnell’s decision. Democrats said they ended the filibuster because Republicans blocked President Barack Obama’s nominees. And so on.
Someone must break the fever.
It would help if President Donald Trump always nominated qualified judges. Four of his nominees have been judged non-qualified by the American Bar Association, a shocking statistic. He has to do better.
Absent that, senators in both parties must work together — quietly — to seek common ground on judgeships.
Republican senators, as the majority, have a particular role to play. They should join with Democrats to oppose clearly unacceptable nominees. Once they do, Democrats can drop their partisan opposition to qualified appointments.
If the American people believe the courts are a mere extension of hyper-partisan bickering in Congress, they’ll lose whatever faith they still have in the judicial system. We think that must be avoided at almost any cost.