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The Voice of the Black Community

State & National

Senate tradition blocks judicial picks
Black lawmakers slam blue slip process
 
Published Monday, February 10, 2014 12:17 pm
by Herbert L White

The battle over how federal judicial vacancies are filled is pitting black lawmakers against Senate Republicans and one of the chamber’s long-standing traditions.

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U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) proposes doing away with the Senate's "blue slip" tradition for considering federal judicial nominees in favor of an up-or-down vote. Butterfield maintains Senate Republicans, especially in the South, don't return blue slips as a virtual veto of President Barack Obama's nominees. 

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), the Congressional Black Caucus’ first vice chair, said the CBC has “serious reservations” of the so-called blue slip process being used as partisan payback against President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees. The CBC is pushing Senate Democrats to do away with blue slips and want Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to schedule up-or-down vote. Jennifer May-Parker of Raleigh is one of 11 African American judicial nominees pending Senate action.

“Personally, I want the blue slip process eliminated because it is being abused,” Butterfield said. “If it were being used as it was intended, it could serve a useful purpose, but right now it is being abused by some of the Republican senators.”

Obama nominated May-Parker last year to fill a vacant seat in North Carolina’s Eastern District, which includes 42 counties. 

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, submitted a blue slip, which conveys the nominee’s approval for a Senate vote. Republican Richard Burr has not, however, which is tantamount to a veto if either senator declines to respond. Burr supported May-Parker, chief of the Appellate Division at the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District, for the judgeship along with W. Allen Cobb of Wilmington in a July 21, 2009 letter to Obama. He has not publicly stated why he hasn’t forwarded the blue slip or whether he supports May-Parker’s nomination, which won’t proceed to the Senate Judiciary Committee unless the blue slip is forwarded.

“It has always been Senator Burr's policy not to release or publicly discuss judicial recommendations made to the White House,” Burr spokeswoman Rachel Hicks said.

“He doesn’t have to vote for her if he doesn’t like her, but he should not stop the process from going forward,” Butterfield said.

The Eastern District seat has been open since 2005 – the longest federal district court vacancy in the country – and the three remaining judges were Republican appointees. 

“The Eastern District has had 15 judges since the system started in 1865,” Butterfield said. “And of those 15 judges, not a single one has been an African American. They’ve all been white and there’s been one female.”

Only one of the state’s three federal judicial district’s – the Middle – has seated a black judge on its four-person panel. The Western District, which includes Charlotte, has never had an African American jurist. 

Diversity on the federal bench has become a lightning rod of debate in Washington. Obama has nominated more blacks and women than any president in history, but the Congressional Black Caucus has expressed frustration with southern senators using the blue slip process to block African American candidates like May-Parker.

“I don’t know her personally, but all indications are she would make a superb judge,” Butterfield said. “There’s just no reason on God’s green Earth why Jennifer May-Parker should not be confirmed.”

 

 

Comments

The Eastern District seat is not the longest federal court vacancy. A 9th circuit seat has been vacant since 2004.
Posted on February 10, 2014
 

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