Franken in mind

Yesterday we covered the fate of the blue slip used by home state Senators to block judicial nominees. We heard from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell via Fred Barnes and from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley via Taylor Foy.

What’s happening here isn’t exactly clear, but Senator Grassley’s reference to disregarding withheld blue slips on a case by case basis involving “abuse” of the practice — can in my view have no one other than Minnesota’s own Al Franken in mind. Franken is withholding his blue slip to block the Senate’s consideration of Justice David Stras as a nominee to the Eighth Circuit. On the basis of nothing he can point to in Justice Stras’s scholarly or judicial record, Franken seeks to kill the Stras nomination.

Jennifer Brooks covers the Franken factor in her Star Tribune story “Franken digs in against GOP against rule for nominating judges.” Brooks notes the statement of Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy to Politico and the Washington Post (alluding to Franken, in my view) that he will not allow the blue slip custom to be abused.

According to Brooks, Franken is “pushing back” against McConnell’s statement to Fred Barnes yesterday. How is Franken “pushing back” against Senator McConnell’s declaration to Fred Barnes? He issued a statement, quoted by Brooks together with her own recitation of history in support of Franken’s statement. Amy Klobuchar makes a cameo appearance coming down forcefully on each of three or four sides of the issues raised here.

There are two serious problems with Brooks’s story. They suggest why the Star Tribune is not a trusted news source for readers across the political spectrum.

On the one hand, Brooks states of Justice Stras: “His own views are staunchly conservative.” We don’t know that and Brooks cites nothing in Justice Stras’s scholarly or judicial record to support it. That is pathetic.

On the other hand, Brooks quotes without comment Franken’s statement: “I strongly urge Chairman Grassley to defend the Senate’s constitutional prerogatives and continue honoring the blue slip process.” Of course, the Senate’s constitutional prerogative is not involved here. The “blue slip process” is not a law. It is not a rule. It is not even a simple custom per se. It is nothing more than a custom recognized in varying forms by the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Congressional Research Service compiled a good account of it by Barry J. McMillion that was published earlier this month. The CRS account is posted online here. Drawing on the relevant history, last month Ed Whelan called for “restor[ation] of the Kennedy-Hatch-Biden blip slip policy” in the case of Justice Stras. Franken and Brooks to the contrary notwithstanding, that’s another way to put it.

In Minnesota we are in the middle of a big story with national implications. That’s why Fred Barnes, the Washington Post and Politico were on it yesterday. Here is a radical thought. When covering the story, it would be a good thing if the Star Tribune were to become an honest broker of the news rather than an advocate of one of the parties to the contest.


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