Senator Leahy Must Throw Out the Blue Slips

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Democratic members from the panel, speak to reporters after Sen
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Democratic members from the panel, speak to reporters after Senate Republicans derailed President Barack Obama's selection of Georgetown University law professor Cornelia Pillard to fill one of three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. Democrats used the vote to assail Republicans for opposing female nominees to the D.C. circuit. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With pressure mounting on Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy to do away with the widely-abused "blue slip" tradition -- a policy allowing just one senator to effectively veto the President's judicial picks without cause -- Senator Leahy has responded with a disturbingly tone deaf op-ed for the Rutland Herald, exposing either an inability or unwillingness to take into consideration the civil rights implications of blue slips abuse.

Thanks to the misuse of blue slips by Republican obstructionists, a bevy of highly qualified Black nominees have been routinely denied confirmation hearings. Long-vacant judgeships -- and the lopsided deals the President has been forced to make in order to fill them -- have put civil rights in harm's way.

The repercussions of Leahy's inaction extend far beyond his home state of Vermont. The dwindling prospect of judicial nominee Leslie Abrams' confirmation to a U.S. District Court vacancy in Georgia is a prime example of the insidious blue slips policy at work. Though nearly one-third of the state identifies as Black, Abrams would become the first Black woman to ever serve on Georgia's federal bench if confirmed. But the open secret is that Abrams' nomination will go nowhere -- just like those of Black women nominees Natasha Perdew Silas, Linda Walker, and Eleanor Ross before her -- thanks to right-wing abuse of blue slips.

As long as Senator Leahy lets them, right-wing obstructionists will keep blocking highly-qualified Black women attorneys and sitting judges from ever seeing a Senate vote on their nominations, potentially locking in the unacceptable inequities in representation on Georgia's federal bench for decades to come.

And the stakes could not be higher; federal judges rule on some of the most crucial civil rights issues impacting our communities, including Stop and Frisk, so-called "Stand Your Ground" or "Shoot First," and selective voter ID laws. Georgia in particular has been bombarded with attacks on voting rights since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to gut the federal Voting Rights Act last year, including aggressive elimination of polling places, adoption of discriminatory redistricting plans, and even a proposal to move Augusta's elections from November to the summertime when it is believed Black voter turnout will be lower.

Worse, blue slipping under Senator Leahy has forced the President's hand into unfair, unreciprocated backroom "package" deals that ultimately give individual senators more power to make judicial appointments than the White House itself. It's one thing for home-state senators to be consulted during the confirmation process. But undermining that process is dangerous, leading to potential lifetime appointments to the federal bench for people ilk Michael Boggs, who as a Georgia legislator voted to preserve the Confederate Battle Emblem as part of the state's flag, and Mark Cohen, best known for his work to uphold Georgia's discriminatory voter ID law.

Leahy says he's willing to move a judicial confirmation forward in cases where there is abuse of the blue slips process, yet his inaction reflects an unwillingness to walk the walk. Abuse of the policy has been widespread, its danger is clear, and the Chairman's excuses are wearing thin. Either he continues to aide in the obstructionist efforts of Republicans at the expense of Black folks, or he throws out the blue slips, ensuring judicial nominees qualified to protect our civil rights receive the full vote to which they're constitutionally entitled.