June 14, 2017

Feinstein Speaks on Importance of Senators on Judicial Nominations

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today spoke at a Senate Judiciary Committee nominations hearing about the importance of preserving the so-called blue slip process that requires both home-state senators to approve a nominee from their state before that nominee can move forward in the Judiciary Committee.

The nomination of Kevin Newsom to the Eleventh Circuit was only possible because senators did not sign off on President Obama’s nominee to fill that vacancy having a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, but Republicans are now signaling that this long-standing precedent is in jeopardy.

Feinstein’s remarks follow:

“John Bush and Kevin Newsom have been nominated to important lifetime appointments on the courts of appeals. The federal courts of appeals are frequently the courts of last resort for most litigants because the United States Supreme Court hears such a small number of cases every year.

So we are also considering a third nominee today. Damien Schiff, who has been nominated to a 15-year term on the Court of Federal Claims. This court has nationwide jurisdiction and primarily hears monetary claims brought by Americans against the government.

I want thank you again Mr. Chairman, for working with me on the timing in order to ensure that we had the American Bar Association ratings for both Mr. Bush and Mr. Newsom before this hearing. And we do have them now.

I would just like to say a quick word, if I may, about blue slips and the Eleventh Court vacancy. Last year, President Obama nominated U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon for this very same vacancy on the Eleventh Circuit.

Judge Kallon had been unanimously confirmed with the support of Senators Shelby and Sessions when he was nominated to the federal court bench in 2009. And I’m certain that Judge Kallon would have been an excellent Eleventh Circuit judge.

However, Judge Kallon did not receive a hearing in this committee last year because Senators Shelby and Sessions did not support his elevation to the circuit court, and thus did not return their blue slips. That is the prerogative of home-state senators for judicial nominees from their states—including circuit court judges.

Now, Mr. Newsom is before us today because Senators Shelby and Strange returned blue slips, and I do not hold Mr. Newsom accountable for the senators’ decision not to return blue slips on Judge Kallon’s nomination.

But I’ve seen in the media some comments from friends across the aisle suggesting that blue slips have historically been less important for circuit court nominees than district court nominees. And respectfully, that’s just not the case. The fact that Mr. Newsom is sitting here before us today proves that fact.

All of the positions that the nominees are being considered for today are very important. And when any individual brings a case before any judge, every person seeks the same thing: a judge who is prepared, a judge who will listen to their arguments and a judge who will consider the case fairly and impartially.

Rather than go on, I would put the remainder of my remarks in the record and thank you for the courtesy of this hearing.”

Background on Eleventh Circuit vacancy:

  • In February 2016, President Obama nominated Judge Abdul Kallon from the Northern District of Alabama to fill an open seat on the Eleventh Circuit.
  • Judge Kallon received blue slips from Senators Shelby and Sessions in 2009 when he was nominated by President Obama to the district court and had been unanimously confirmed. Judge Kallon also received a unanimous well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association when he was nominated to the Eleventh Circuit.
  • Senators Sessions and Shelby did not return their blue slips and Judge Kallon never received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • Because the blue slip was honored for circuit court nominees during President Obama’s administration, President Trump was able to nominate Kevin Newsom to this seat on May 9, 2017. Senators Shelby and Strange promptly returned blue slips.
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