Senators exert ‘silent veto’ over potential judges

George Curry | 1/13/2014, 10:42 a.m.
President Obama’s recent nominations of federal judges in Georgia – including one who supported regressive voter ID laws and another ...
George Curry

From 1956-1979, a senator’s objection to a nominee would stop all further consideration. In recent years, the blue-slip policy has been modified to supposedly prevent home-state senators from having such absolute power over nominees from the state. Still, senators continue to exert tremendous influence in the flawed process.

Because the blue-slip policy has been in effect for so long, Blacks are grossly underrepresented on the federal bench.

The African American population in Georgia, for example, is 31 percent, more than double the national average of 13 percent. Blacks comprise 26.5 percent of Alabama’s population and almost 17 percent of Florida’s population. Yet, of the 12 judges representing the 11th Circuit, which covers those states, only one, Charles Wilson, is Black. The only other person of color is a Cuban, Adalberto Jordan of Miami.

Similarly, the U.S. District Court bench in Atlanta has only one African American, Steve Jones, sitting as a full-time judge; the other 10 judges are White. The federal court in Macon has only had one African American judge in its history and Savannah has never had a Black judge.

Although Senate Democrats won a victory of sorts by changing procedures so that administration nominees can win approval on a simple majority vote, Obama still faces hurdles appointing judges because of an arcane Senate blue-slip procedure that has been referred to as a “silent veto.”

George E. Curry is the editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He can be reached through his website, http://www.georgecurry.com.