Qualifications or Philosophy? The Use of Blue Slips in a Polarized Era

Ryan C. Black, Anthony J. Madonna, and Ryan J. Owens

Published 2014, Presidential Studies Quarterly 44(2): 290-308 (June).

Abstract:

In recent years, judicial nominations to lower federal courts have been blocked privately by negative blue slips returned by home state senators. We examine the conditions under which senators return these negative blue slips and whether judicial qualifications can mitigate the possible negative effects of ideological distance. We discover two results. First, consistent with existing work, ideology plays a strong role in blue slipping. Second, and more important, we find that nominee qualifications mitigate ideological extremism--but only for district court nominees. That is, in the past, when the ideological distance between home state senators and the president was less severe, presidents could use legal credentials to prop up district court and circuit court nominees who shared his views. Today, in a Senate marked by high polarization and few moderates – the president cannot.