Blue Slip Blues

BLUE SLIP BLUES….Bill Frist was on Fox News Sunday yesterday chatting sympathetically with Tony Snow and Brit Hume about the Democratic strategy of filibustering judicial nominees they don’t like. It was “unprecedented,” Frist said, “inexcusable.” Tony Snow piped up that we should go back to the old filibuster rules and make ’em “stay in all night.” Brit Hume added sadly that the Democrats seemed to be paying “no discernible political price” for this perfidy.

But what if, in an alternate universe, there had been an actual Democrat on the show to provide the other side of the story? Perhaps the blue slip rule might have been mentioned.

Blue slips? Yes, yes, I know, that’s boring. Senate procedures and all that. But it’s at the bottom of the Republican hypocrisy that started this whole mess, so it’s worth understanding. Here’s a handy table that explains the whole thing.

Time Period


What It Means


Two blue slips needed to kill a nominee.

This was the default “Senatorial courtesy” tradition followed by both parties regardless of who was president. If both senators from the judge’s home state “blue slipped” a nominee, he was out.


Only one blue slip needed to kill a nominee.

Republicans take control of the Senate and decide that the old rule is archaic. Only one blue slip should be required to block a nominee, thus making it easier for them kill Clinton nominees.


Back to two slips.

With George Bush in the White House, their shiny new rule suddenly no longer seems like such a good idea: why, it makes it easier for Democrats to block George Bush’s nominees! Republicans change the rule back to two blue slips and Democrats threaten to filibuster over this transparent piece of hypocrisy.


Democrats reinstate one blue slip rule.

Republicans never really got a chance to enact their power play before Jim Jeffords defected. With Democrats in power, they keep the one blue slip rule.


Two blue slips.

Republicans now control the Senate again and make good on their earlier promise to move to a two-blue-slip rule. Democrats cry foul and threaten to filibuster. They do.

It was the Republicans who decided back in 1995 to unilaterally change the blue slip rule because they wanted to put roadblocks in the way of Bill Clinton’s judges. But suddenly, when they had their own president in the White House, they didn’t like the roadblock idea so much.

Are there any Republicans who can seriously defend their party’s switch from two blue slips to one and then back to two as anything other than a naked and unprincipled power grap? If you want “unprecedented” and “inexcusable,” that’s where to look.

My guess is that Senate Democrats would be willing to give up filibustering in exchange for settling on the one-blue-slip rule that the Republicans themselves put in place in 1995. Any takers?