Back in July 2009, Sen. Richard Burr was helping a new president out the way that senators are supposed to do, by sending him a suggestion for a candidate to the federal judiciary in North Carolina. He recommended Jennifer May-Parker, among a few others, as having "the requisite qualifications to serve with distinction." A lot has changed in the intervening four and a half years. For one thing, President Obama waited until June 2013 to actually submit her nomination. But once he did so, suddenly and mysteriously Burr decided he couldn't support May-Parker after all, and he has withheld his "blue slip," the sign-off senators give to home state nominees. And he's still not saying why.
HuffPost caught up with Burr in the Capitol and asked him why he's holding up May-Parker, who, if confirmed, would fill the longest-standing district court vacancy in the country. The North Carolina judicial seat has been empty since 2005.If he's had this conversation with the White House, it was apparently all in his head, because an administration official who spoke with Huffington Post had no idea why Burr is blocking his own nominee. And if it's Burr's policy to not talk about blue slips, well that's certainly new. Because he's had no problems with talking about it in the past, including sending out press releases to announce turning in his blue slips. But that was different, because Bush was president. Or something.
"I don't talk about any recommendations I make to the White House. All my conversations are with them," Burr said.
Asked if he still supports May-Parker's nomination, given that he's the one who recommended her to Obama in the first place, Burr demurred.
"All my conversations are with the White House on judicial recommendations," he said.
The North Carolina senator also wouldn't comment on if he plans to submit his blue slip: "I just don't share anything about the judicial nominations process."
Burr is holding back his blue slip, and so far, he's kept May-Parker from advancing. That's because Sen. Patrick Leahy, chair of the Judiciary Committee, has chosen to honor this blue slip tradition. He's not bound to by Senate rules, and can dispense with the practice at any time, just as his predecessor Orrin Hatch did when Republicans held the Senate. When asked about blue slips, Leahy seemed to plead ignorance of situations like the one Burr has created, saying that as long as "the blue slip process is not being abused by home state senators, then I will see no reason to change that tradition."
This is a pretty clear sign of abuse of the tradition. At this point, it seems like the only way the longest-standing district court vacancy in the country is going to be filled is if Leahy decides to pull the plug on blue slips.