Butterfield wants to end Senate’s blue slip process

01/23/2014 7:16 PM

01/23/2014 7:17 PM

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield says the Congressional Black Caucus is discussing how to break the logjam over the nomination of Jennifer May-Parker to the fill the federal district court judicial vacancy in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Republican Sen. Richard Burr has not submitted a “blue slip,” the sign of approval that both home state senators must give before the Senate Judiciary Committee considers a presidential nomination to the bench. Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan has submitted hers, but Burr has declined to do so or explain his reasons.

Butterfield, a Democrat from Wilson, is a co-chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus’s judicial nominations working group. The panel monitors judicial nominations nationwide and encourages the president to nominate qualified African-Americans.

There have been other instances around the country where Republican senators have blocked nominations. In many cases, the process hadn’t gotten to the blue slip phase. President Barack Obama has been trying to get consensus over the nominations, but the senators have refused to agree to his nominations, Butterfield said.

He called it a “partisan tool” to prevent the president’s nominations from going forward.

“Obama’s so careful. He always tries to work it out – get consensus before he makes the nomination,” Butterfield said.

He said he hoped that if the president can’t do that, he would make the nomination anyway and insist on Senate confirmation.

In North Carolina, May-Parker is a well-qualified federal prosecutor and “there is no justified reason” for Burr to withhold the blue slip, Butterfield said.

“I’m talking to the White House constantly about this,” Butterfield said. “And I basically said it is imperative that we have an African American judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina, because it represents diversity and it also changes history.”

There’s never been an African-American judge in the district.

Butterfield said he’d like to see the Senate get rid of blue slips, and members of the Black Caucus have discussed holding a meeting with Senate Judiciary chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., about whether his committee should get rid of the procedure.

Recent figures show there were 78 vacancies on the district court bench across the country. Of those, 42 nominees were pending and 36 haven’t even been nominated because the president hasn’t been able to build consensus with the home state senators, Butterfield said.

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