In 2009, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) wrote a letter to President Obama recommending that he nominate Jennifer May-Parker, a federal prosecutor from his state, to a judicial vacancy on a federal trial court. You can read his letter to President Obama here. Last June, the president agreed with Burr’s recommendation, and nominated Ms. May-Parker to be a federal district judge.
And now Burr is blocking May-Parker’s nomination, invoking an arcane Senate tradition that allows senators to unilaterally veto judicial nominees from their own state. In an interview with the Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery, Burr refused to explain why the woman he once said has “the requisite qualifications to serve with distinction” as a federal district judge is suddenly unfit to be a federal district judge.
The tactic Burr is now using to block his own candidate for the federal bench is known as failing to return a “blue slip.” The blue slip is a relic of an old patronage system that used to allow home-state senators to hand pick the federal judges in their own state. Although that patronage system was largely dismantled in the Carter and Reagan Administrations, Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy (D-VT) has permitted senators like Burr to veto nominees through the blue slip process, even though Leahy could eliminate their ability to do so whenever he chooses.
Indeed, when President George W. Bush was in the White House, then-Senate Judiciary Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT) did exactly that, replacing the blue slip with a looser standard that permitted judicial nominations to move forward “provided that the Administration  engaged in pre-nomination consultation with both of the home-state Senators.” Presumably, when the president nominates someone that was specifically recommended to him by one of the state’s home-state senators, that counts as “pre-nomination consultation.”