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Thune: Bipartisanship and Compromise are Key Pillars That Should be Safeguarded, Not Threatened

“I believe very firmly in Senate rules and traditions that preserve the Founders’ vision of the Senate as a place of consensus and deliberation and that help prevent tyrannical majorities from trampling on rights and representation for members of the minority.”

March 30, 2023

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today spoke on the Senate floor about preserving critical Senate traditions in the face of partisan attacks. Thune spoke on the need to preserve the current blue slip process for district court nominees, which serves as an important tool to ensure that home-state senators are fully and meaningfully consulted in the selection of lifetime nominees who will serve in their states. Importantly, it promotes compromise, checks unfettered majority power, and serves as a critical check on the president. Thune also addressed the continued importance of the legislative filibuster in promoting consensus, deliberation, and lasting legislative solutions.

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):

“Mr. President, in January of this year, a former Democrat senator penned an op-ed urging Democrats to do away with the Senate tradition of blue slips.


“This was followed within weeks by an editorial from the New York Times and an op-ed in the Washington Post making similar arguments.


“And while the Democrat chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee has indicated his desire to maintain the blue-slip process, talk of abandoning blue slips remains concerning, especially given Democrats’ attempt last year to do away with the legislative filibuster, a mainstay of Senate procedure and a guarantor of minority party representation.


“Mr. President, blue slips – so-called because they are literally blue slips of paper requesting perspective on judicial nominees from their home-state senators – are a long-time Senate tradition.


“They serve the important function of ensuring that senators are consulted about judicial appointments from their state.

“And that is particularly relevant when it comes to nominees to serve as federal district court judges.


“Mr. President, the Founders set up the Senate in such a way as to provide a voice for states in the national legislature.


“And senators continue to provide a voice for a whole state in a way that a representative in the House of Representatives does not simply because he or she only represents a single district.


“And state representation is of particular relevance when it comes to the most numerous type of judicial nominee – federal district court judges.


“Unlike circuit court judges or Supreme Court justices, federal district court judges are responsible for a limited physical jurisdiction that is entirely contained within a single state. 


“And they are regularly required to interpret state law as well as federal law.


“Given that fact, senators, as the representatives of their states, should have a particular say in who will receive a lifetime appointment to interpret their state’s laws.


“Mr. President, the Constitution gives the president the power to appoint judges “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” 


“And the blue-slip process in the Senate encourages presidents to seek that advice – not to just send a nominee over to the Senate for consideration and a vote but to actually discuss a nomination with the relevant home-state senators before sending it over.


“Blue slips also serve as a check on more extreme or problematic nominees – first, by encouraging the president not to nominate excessively controversial candidates, and second, by providing a way for home-state senators to block a nomination for their state if the president does nominate someone problematic.


“Senators of both parties regularly return blue slips for judicial nominees – in other words, they sign off on the nomination of judicial nominees – who would not be their first choice but whom they recognize as suitable to sit on the bench.


“But when the nominee in question has problems beyond just not being a home-state senator’s preference, blue slips have provided a way for senators of both parties to stop the nomination.


“Mr. President, in the pieces that have come out in support of abolishing the blue-slip process, I’ve noticed two strands of thought in particular – one, that things have gotten so partisan that we should just do away with things that are meant to foster bipartisanship.


“And two, that doing away with blue slips is worth it for the political goal to be achieved – getting more Democrat judicial nominees confirmed.


“When it comes to the first, Mr. President – the idea that things have gotten so partisan that we should just give up and embrace it – I would say that I think the last solution to increased partisanship is to abolish measures that promote collaboration and comity.


“We have seen a lot of virulent partisanship around here lately, but the truth is that bipartisanship still exists, even though it may not always receive the same kind of sensational coverage that major disputes between the parties receive.


“And anything that promotes bipartisanship – that encourages members of both parties to work together, to listen to each other’s concerns, and to compromise when possible – is a good thing.


“But while I may not agree that the solution to increased partisanship is to just give in to it, I am really troubled by the second idea put forward by those who want to abolish blue slips – that it’s worth abandoning a significant Senate tradition – a tradition that promotes compromise, checks unfettered majority power, and serves as a critical check on the president – for the sake of temporary political gain.


“This, of course, is hardly the first time we’ve seen this attitude during the Biden administration.


“We’ve also seen it displayed with Democrats’ attempt to abolish the legislative filibuster – the Senate rule that today almost unquestionably does more than anything else to preserve the Founders’ vision of the Senate as a place of stability and deliberation and a check on the power of faction. 


“Mr. President, I’ll be frank, the legislative filibuster can be frustrating in the extreme.


“When Republicans were in control of the Senate, we took multiple votes on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act – a piece of legislation that would enshrine what should be the most common-sense thing imaginable: that a living, breathing child born after a botched abortion should be granted protection.


“And the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would have passed without the legislative filibuster.


“So there’s no question that the filibuster can stop good legislation from getting passed – just as a blue slip could prevent a good judge from being confirmed.


“But that is not a reason to do away with either of these Senate procedures.


“And, above all, it is not a reason to do away with the legislative filibuster. 


“The filibuster can be frustrating.


“And it can certainly be used to stop good bills, like the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.


“But it is a powerful protection against bad legislation.


“Without the legislative filibuster there is very little, if anything, to prevent terrible legislation from getting passed by an extremely narrow or even merely technical Senate majority.


“And the legislative filibuster offers a host of other benefits. 


“It encourages compromise. 


“It discourages extremism. 


“And it provides a voice for Americans represented by whatever party is in the minority, who also deserve representation.


“Mr. President, the Founders knew that tyranny didn’t just come in the form of individual despots and dictators.


“They knew that majorities could be tyrants as well and trample on the rights of Americans in the minority.


“And the legislative filibuster helps guard against that.


“And so, Mr. President, I believe very firmly in Senate rules and traditions that preserve the Founders’ vision of the Senate as a place of consensus and deliberation, and that help prevent tyrannical majorities from trampling on rights and representation for members of the minority.


“Mr. President, while the legislative filibuster or the blue-slip process may prevent a good piece of legislation from getting passed, or a good nominee from getting confirmed, the alternative – a system without meaningful representation for the minority party and the Americans it represents, without a meaningful check on extreme nominees or legislation that threatens our constitutional rights – is in fact much worse.


“And so before Democrats think about abolishing key Senate protections against extremism or the tyranny of the majority, I hope they will consider what things might look like when they are once again in the minority, and they want to stop a nominee or piece of legislation that they view as dangerous or extreme. 


“And I hope that they will decide in favor of checks and balances and Senate institutions.


“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”