During the Senate Judiciary Committee’s business meeting today, Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) made some claims about the confirmation process that need correction.
She said, for example, that the Senate abolished nomination filibusters in November 2013 only after five years of “record obstruction” of President Obama’s judicial nominees. In fact, from January 2009 to November 2013, the Senate took a separate vote to invoke cloture, or end debate, on only twelve judicial nominations, and only six of them failed. That’s it. Six filibusters of judicial nominations in five years.
Was that a record? Hardly. Between March 2003 and July 2004, the Senate took 20 cloture votes on judicial nominations made by President George W. Bush, and every one of them failed. That’s 20 filibusters of judicial nominations in less than a year and a half.
Filibusters of judicial nominations declined by two-thirds during the Obama administration. No matter how you slice it or dice it, there was no “record obstruction” in the Obama era.
Feinstein also accused Republicans of deciding to “no longer honor blue slips of Democratic senators.” Blue slips solicit the views of senators about judicial nominees who would serve in their respective states. Feinstein lamented the “needless disregard of blue slips.”
Republicans have neither refused to honor nor disregarded the views of home-state senators about judicial nominees. They just don’t automatically allow a single senator to stop the entire Senate from even considering a nomination.
But Feinstein’s current view — that the blue-slip courtesy should serve to give a single senator absolute veto power over a nomination — is radically different than what it used to be.
On June 29, 2001, Feinstein spoke on the Senate floor to explain why she believed that “the blue slip should hold no place in this body.” Back then she argued that the “blue slip process, as it now stands, is open to abuse.” She went on to vow: “I would join with those . . . who would move to abolish the blue slip.”
Her antipathy to the blue-slip process, she explained, was that it allowed a single senator to “blackball a judge from his or her state.” In other words, according to Feinstein, the blue slip process’ biggest defect, the reason she would “happily vote to do away with the blue slip,” was that it was being used as a veto — the very thing that Feinstein defends today.