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Crapo and Risch want White House meeting on judicial vacancy

Idaho

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BOISE (AP) — Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch this week sent a letter to the White House requesting a meeting about Idaho’s federal district judge vacancy, saying it “cannot be filled” without a “mutual agreement” between them and the administration.

But the “blue slip” procedure that the Republicans referenced — a system that gave home-state senators a veto over federal judicial nominees — was thrown out during the Trump Administration, when federal judges were appointed over objections from Democratic senators.

“The blue slip procedure regarding filling United States District Court vacancies is alive and well,” the two senators wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to Dana Remus, counsel to the president, the Idaho Press reported.

Idaho’s top Democratic elected officials submitted an all-female list of four nominees to the White House in March, but there’s been no further word on the nomination since then. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill took senior status in August, making Idaho eligible for another federal judge.

The slate of nominees that the Democratic officials sent the White House, in alphabetical order and not ranked, were: Idaho Falls attorney DeAnne Casperson; Boise attorney Keely Duke; Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson; and former U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson.

Idaho is one of just three states with only two U.S. district judges and has not gotten an additional judgeship in 60 years, though caseloads have soared.

Idaho’s congressional delegation has long pushed for the state to get an additional judgeship, and all four of its members in Congress are sponsoring legislation to do just that, though it has not advanced. The nonpartisan Judicial Council of the United States has recommended a third judgeship for Idaho since 2003.

Wyoming, with less than a third of Idaho’s population, has three district judges. So does Montana, with less than two-thirds of Idaho’s population.

Idaho is also one of just two states that has never had a female U.S. district judge; the other is North Dakota.

It’s been unclear since President Joe Biden took office how the Senate would approach the “blue slip” rule.

Russell Wheeler, a fellow with the Brookings Institution, former deputy director of the Federal Judicial Center and an expert on the selection of federal judges, said, “It’s not as if the ‘blue slip’ is a binary choice, it’s either on or it’s off. It’s more like there are various gradations.”

Wheeler said Biden so far has nominated dozens of federal district and circuit judges, but nearly all were in jurisdictions with either two Democratic senators or no senators, like Puerto Rico and the federal circuit in the District of Columbia.

The only state that has a Republican senator that’s gotten judicial nominations from Biden so far is Ohio, which has one Republican and one Democrat representing in the Senate.

Idaho House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel D-Boise, who also was among the Democratic officials who interviewed and submitted nominees to the White House, said she met in-person with her White House contact a couple of weeks ago, and pressed for updates.

“I didn’t get any more sign of progress,” she said. “I certainly am doing everything I can to nudge progress on this front, because we certainly need a third judge here in the district of Idaho, but we certainly can’t afford to get back to one.”

Rubel bristled at the senators’ contention that the “blue slip” veto rule is back.

“It would be one thing if that were something that was consistently honored by both parties,” she said. “If it continued to be a bipartisan tradition, then I would be supportive of maintaining that. However, the Trump Administration decided to blow that up in order to gain an advantage in judicial appointments while they had control of the White House and the Senate.”

Crapo’s press secretary, Melanie Lawhorn, said in an email, “We are aware that there are some candidates, but do not have information on how long the process has been under way or the status of the interviews and we are unable to say who at this time. Part of the request for the meeting is to understand the White House’s timeline and current status.”

Crapo declined to comment on whether any or all the Democratic nominees are acceptable to the GOP senators.

“Senator Crapo is requesting a meeting with the White House to discuss and work to find a mutually agreeable nominee,” Lawhorn wrote. “He is not commenting prematurely on individuals before any formal nomination.”

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