The Congressional Black Caucus Calls for Reforms to the Blue Slip System

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, July 11, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) stating that the CBC would oppose two judicial nominations if Durbin did not undertake outlined changes to the Jim Crow-era blue slip process. 

Blue slips are blue pieces of paper that the Senate Judiciary Committee uses to survey home-state senators’ views of a district court nominee. A home-state senator can do one of three things with a blue slip: 

  • return it with comments supporting the nominee, 
  • return it with comments opposing the nominee or 
  • not return it at all. 

Since the blue slip process is not mandatory under the U.S. Constitution but instead is a courtesy process, the extent to which a blue slip can halt a nomination is dependent on the committee chair’s policy. In other words, Durbin has the power to end this practice. 

The CBC Chair Steven Horsford, the primary author of the letter, points to Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) elimination of the blue slip process for circuit court judges, which allowed former President Donald Trump to stack the federal judiciary while in office. The letter also illustrates the progress that eliminating blue slips has already had on reshaping federal circuit courts. 

The elimination of blue slips for circuit court judges has allowed for some of President Joe Biden’s historic judicial nominations, like Nancy Abudu, to be confirmed. Nominations like Abudu’s, Horsford argues, are necessary in the pursuit of  “diversify[ing] the judiciary, protect[ing] critical civil rights and liberties, and reestablish[ing] fair courts with ideological balance.” 

As noted in the letter, “the Blue Slip custom was created by segregationist Senator James Eastland of Mississippi to prevent school integration after Brown v. Board of Education, maintain white supremacy, and entrench Jim Crow by blocking the nomination of judges who would respect Brown as precedent and enforce desegregation orders.”

This letter comes as Democrats are pushing to reshape the federal judiciary and embracing widespread judicial reform efforts, including a call by Senate Democrats to end the practice of “judge shopping” earlier this week. 

Read the letter here. 

Learn about the Federal Judge Confirmation Process here.