Michigan Democratic senators cave to Trump on powerful judicial appointment

FILE- Sen. Debbie Stabenow, shown in an Oct. 18, 2016 file photo in Detroit and then Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters, shown in a Nov. 4, 2014 in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., are Michigan's two Democratic senators. CREDIT: AP Photo

Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Gary Peters (D-MI) capitulated to Donald Trump’s effort to place a conservative former clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia on a powerful court of appeals. Stabenow and Peters briefly refused to return a “blue slip,” a procedural formality that prevented the nomination of Justice Joan Larsen to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit from moving forward. They have now reportedly given up their resistance.

Larsen, who is currently a justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, defended President George W. Bush’s controversial use of a signing statement purporting to limit the scope of an anti-torture law in 2006. In an op-ed published in the Detroit News, Larsen suggested that the president may even have the power to ignore a federal law if he determines that following the law would “prevent him from protecting the nation.”

Blue slips are a courtesy typically extended towards the home-state senators of a particular judicial nominee. By refusing to return a nominee’s blue slip, a senator can block a confirmation hearing on that nominee and effectively thwart confirmation.

During the Obama administration, many Republican senators used the blue slip process aggressively to prevent President Obama from filling judicial vacancies. Many liberals pressured Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), then the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to abandon the blue slip process to allow Obama’s nominees to be confirmed. Leahy rebuffed these efforts.

It is unclear what, exactly, Leahy gained from refusing to end the blue slip under President Obama if senators like Stabenow and Peters will cave to Trump. As of this writing, neither Sen. Stabenow’s office nor Sen. Peters’ has responded to a request for an explanation for their decision. ThinkProgress will update this piece if an explanation is forthcoming.

UPDATE: Sen. Peters office emailed a statement to ThinkProgress regarding the Larsen blue slip. In it, the senator states that “I have returned the Senate ‘blue slip,’ and I look forward to learning more about Justice Larsen and her record as she continues through the Senate’s confirmation process. I appreciated having the opportunity to meet with Justice Larsen in person recently, and I will continue to do my due diligence and evaluate her qualifications and judicial approach along with my Senate colleagues.”