There are currently 149 federal judicial vacancies for the White House to fill, but Mitch McConnell is making Senate rule changes that could speed things up.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made confirming judicial nominees a top priority. He’s taken a series of steps that bypass Democrats’ strategies at slowing the rate of confirmations.
Blue slips, for example, will no longer delay a nominee’s vote and confirmation.
The Weekly Standard lists other recent accomplishments by McConnell that should help speed the process.
* No longer will “blue slips” be allowed to deny a nominee a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and vote on confirmation. In the past, senators have sometimes barred a nominee from their state by refusing to return their slip to the committee, thus preventing a hearing and confirmation.
“The majority”—that is, Republicans—will treat a blue slip “as simply notification of how you’re going to vote, not as an opportunity to blackball,” McConnell told me. The use of blue slips, he noted, is not a Senate rule and has “been honored in the breach over the years.” Now it won’t be honored at all.
* The so-called “30 hours rule”—which provides for 30 hours of debate on a nominee—won’t be overturned. But McConnell vowed to set aside time for these debates. And he can make this happen because he sets the Senate schedule.
The majority leader has been under pressure recently from conservative groups to get more court nominees approved by the Judiciary Committee—and more rapidly—and sent to the Senate floor. McConnell had long prodded the committee to increase the number of hearings, then report the nominees out as quickly as possible for Senate floor votes.
Some conservative groups have criticized the White House for slowed judicial appointments. McConnell maintains that Democrats have stalled the confirmation process through a series of roadblocks, which the White House is working to overcome.
McConnell has sent aids to speak with some of those groups to curb negative advertising campaigns. Since Trump’s election, the Senate has only confirmed seven judges.
With a high number of judicial vacancies, conservatives expect McConnell to follow through with his promise of setting a high priority of getting nominees confirmed.
The influential Judicial Crisis Network had planned on launching a $250,000 ad buy in Washington on Tuesday calling on McConnell to either change the Senate rules to jam through new judges or keep the chamber in session until Democrats relent out of fatigue, according to sources familiar with the plans.
But before the ad campaign could begin, McConnell’s aides contacted the conservative advocacy group — a major ally for Senate Republicans on court battles — to defuse what could have beeen a public intraparty confrontation over judicial confirmations.
“The campaign, including the advertising, is in a holding pattern for now because Leader McConnell’s office has reached out and wants to have discussions about how best to proceed in the coming months in order to avoid the kind of judicial confirmations bottleneck that the groups are concerned about,” a spokesperson for the Judicial Crisis Network said late Monday.
[…] The Senate has confirmed just seven judges this year, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. There are 149 judicial vacancies right now, compared to the 108 Trump started the year with. Trump has so far sent nominees for 50 of the current vacancies.
McConnell told Politico in an interview that the White House is working to stop the Democrats’ effort to slow procedure. “This has got to stop,” McConnell said. “It’s time to end these games.”
Republicans have the majority in Senate, for now. But there’s always the possibility that they’ll lose that control in the upcoming 2018 election, especially given their recent proclivity for epic failure.
In the upcoming weeks, if progress isn’t made in speeding up nominations and confirmations, conservative groups may decide to follow through with plans to put more pressure on the Trump Administration to make immediate changes.