The Legacy Of Senator Patrick Leahy

In a longer article about norm erosion, Matthew Yglesias notes (boldface mine):

Consider, for example, the hardball saga of the “Blue Slip Rule”:

  • Up through 1994 or so there was a tradition in the United States Senate that a judicial nomination could not be brought to the floor unless the nominee received at least one “blue slip” — i.e., favorable recommendation — from a home-state senator.
  • Then in 1995, Republicans won control of the Senate and changed the principle to require two blue slips to advance a judicial nominee, which made it easier to block Bill Clinton’s appointees.
  • In 2001, George W. Bush became president, so they changed the rule back to one blue slip. Jim Jeffords’s defection then gave Democrats control of the Senate, so they moved back to two blue slips to make it easier to block his judges.
  • The two slip rule, critically, remained in effect as long as Democrats controlled the Senate even once Barack Obama took over as president — with Democrats choosing to uphold a senatorial courtesy over partisan advantage.
  • Republicans gained control of the Senate in 2015 and, of course, not only kept the two slip rule in place but basically stopped confirming judges altogether — up to and including holding a Supreme Court seat vacant.
  • When Trump took office, he filled the Supreme Court vacancy with Neil Gorsuch and the GOP swiftly went back to a one blue slip standard, until this May when they broke the seal on confirming judges who had zero blue slips.

These shenanigans have profoundly shaped the federal judiciary over the past quarter-century, a period of time during which the courts also handed an election to Bush, dismantled much of federal campaign finance legislation and the Voting Rights Act, and acted to make it virtually impossible to successfully prosecute political corruption cases and a wide array of other white collar crimes to boot.

He writes “Democrats”, but the primary culprit was Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), who, inexplicably, was more concerned with Senate rules and norms than doing right by the country. It didn’t seem like there was anything venial going on, but it was very foolish. When you have power, use it–or lose it. Norms be damned, people need help.

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