For a century, the U.S. Senate has followed an unwritten “blue-slip” practice, in which Senators are permitted to block federal district and circuit court nominees from their home states from advancing to a confirmation vote, simply by declining to endorse the nominees. Viewed in the most positive light, the practice allows Senators to exercise informed discretion over the nominee’s fit with a local court and local constituency. Viewed more cynically, the blue-slip procedure provides Senators with essentially unchecked power to block nominees for any reason, no matter how ideological, arbitrary, or mean-spirited.
Senate Republicans are now openly talking about modifying the practice, to extend blue-slip privileges only over district court nominees. This means that a single Senator could not hold up confirmation hearings over individuals nominated to serve on the U.S. Courts of Appeal. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) explained: “I think there’s a difference between the blue-slip application at the district court level where the courts is contained wholly within a state as opposed to a circuit court which covers multiple states…. The idea that an individual senator could veto in effect a nominee at the circuit court level is really unprecedented and I think it needs to be carefully looked at.”