“I think what we’ve demonstrated is, we are willing to work in good faith,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who supported the nominees for his state. “When there are qualified people who aren’t politicians wearing black robes, we’re happy to work with the administration.”
The tension over red-state judges stems from a quirky Senate custom. Under a longstanding practice, senators can exercise veto power over district court nominees in their home states by refusing to return what is known as a blue slip granting their approval.
Reluctant to see too many nominees picked by a Democratic president ascend to the bench, many Senate Republicans have been slow to give their consent or have refused altogether. The logjam has led activists to urge Democrats to stop honoring the blue slip tradition, which was jettisoned by Republicans for appeals court nominees during the Trump years, allowing them to override Democratic objections. Democrats have now stopped recognizing the blue slip for appeals court nominees as well.
But Mr. Durbin is reluctant to abolish the blue slip for district courts, fearing it would backfire on Democrats if Republicans regained power. He has encouraged the White House to work with Republicans to find credible nominees that both sides can swallow. In an interview, he said the success of those efforts should quiet demands to dump the blue slip.
While crediting Mr. Durbin with making inroads in Republican-led states, progressive activists say he should still end the practice, to allow the White House and Senate to move more quickly to fill vacancies as they try to match the number of judges Republicans installed during the four years that Mr. Trump was in the White House. They predict that Republicans will steamroll Democrats if they regain the Senate majority and White House.