In several states, the two senators collectively create a screening committee to recommend names of local attorneys and state judges to the President for a federal judicial appointment. The committees are not mandatory, and have been used somewhat haphazardly over time, but they do allow senators to provide useful information to the President about qualified individuals for the federal bench. The committees also help lock the senators in when home-state openings arise: by pre-screening a list of possible candidates, the senators are essentially telling the President that they will support any nominee who comes from that list. Such advance agreement avoids the embarrassment that Senator Michael Bennett must have felt earlier this month when, for purely partisan reasons, he had to vote against an extremely well-qualified fellow Coloradan, Neil Gorsuch, for the Supreme Court.
The benefits of screening committees require the President’s assent as well. This week, Washington’s Democratic Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, asked President Trump to honor the list of five candidates that their screening committee produced in 2015 for federal district court openings that remain unfilled. The screening committee, a bipartisan group created with the assistance of Republican Congressman Dave Reichert, offers a great example of how the selection of qualified nominees should work. Here’s hoping that the Trump Administration seizes upon this opportunity for bipartisan collaboration.