Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Left-Wing Pressure a Window into How Democrats Would Run a Future Judiciary Committee

Senator Dianne Feinstein on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., May 8, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters )

The Los Angeles Times reports that left-wing activists are badgering Senator Dianne Feinstein to abandon blue slips if Joe Biden wins the White House and the Democrats capture the Senate. In that scenario, Feinstein, currently the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, would be slated to become chairman.

Feinstein and other committee Democrats spent much of the Trump years protesting that no judicial nomination, whether for circuit court or district court, should be allowed to advance when home state senators object by refusing to return their blue slips. Now, with election day 50 days away, Brian Fallon of Demand Justice is putting the pressure on Feinstein to do a complete flip-flop of her blue slip stance if she wants to serve as chairman: The idea that Feinstein would allow Mitch McConnell, who would remain the presumptive Republican leader in the Senate, to “block a President Biden’s judicial picks is basically disqualifying,” Fallon asserted. “And if she’s not willing to fight all-out for Joe Biden’s judicial nominees, then the Democrats ought to figure out who else can run that committee.”

Fallon’s threat is a reaction to Feinstein’s refusal to say clearly whether she would change her position on blue slips if she is the one holding the gavel after the election. To be sure, she has changed her position on this very issue before. It is not difficult to envision yet another flip for the sake of political expediency. Her refusal to indicate what she would do may well reflect that her true commitment is to opportunism — in other words, determine which position to take based on who wins the presidency and the Senate in November.

In any event, Feinstein should be worried that she has become the poster child for what will happen to any Democratic senator who does not give in to the pressure of far-left activists, in this case for whomever becomes the next Democratic Judiciary Committee chairman to abandon the blue slip tradition. Prediction: If Democrats win the White House and the Senate, she will give in. Or there will be a different chairman.

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