In the News

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“What he’s saying is, ‘I got him this far, but I’m not going to get him any further,’ ” Pines told reporters on a conference call organized by the liberal One Wisconsin Institute.

Press Release

One Wisconsin Institute

It’s a yes or no answer to the question of whether Sen. Ron Johnson is doing his job, and we’ve launched a new site to provide people with the answer.


Scot Ross

Allowing our courts to become deadlocked for petty political reasons would be unprecedented. It’s time Sen. Ron Johnson stop playing games and start doing his job.

The Issues

Our nation’s federal courts make rulings on virtually every issue that is important to Americans. Although most Americans are familiar with the Supreme Court, many are surprised to hear that more than 900 judges have lifetime appointments to serve on lower federal courts and hear thousands of times the number that the Supreme Court hears. And most of the time it’s these lower courts that have the final say.

Select an issue below to learn more.

Gun Violence
Religious Liberties
LGBT Equality
Money in Politics
Reproductive Rights
Civil Rights
Voting Rights
Criminal Justice

The Process


A Vacancy Occurs

Federal court appointments are for life, so it is up to each judge to decide when to step down. Judges often give advance notice of up to one year before they plan to leave a federal district court or circuit court of appeals.

Did you know?

When a seat on a federal court remains empty, Americans who rely on that court to resolve business disputes, Social Security claims and constitutional challenges are denied timely access to justice.


Home State Senators Are Consulted

The White House consults home state senators: If there is a vacancy on a federal court, the White House consults with the senators who represent the state in which the vacancy will occur, often referred to as the “home state senators.” Home state senators may recommend candidates to the White House by:

  • Conducting exhaustive searches through the state bar for candidates;
  • Creating selection committees, often made up of leading attorneys in the state;
  • Selecting candidates based on the recommendations of these commissions or other considerations

The selection process can be slowed if home state senators fail to timely recommend a candidate to the president or delay in engaging with the White House in its consultation.


A Thorough Vetting Process Is Conducted

Thorough vetting of a candidate’s background includes the following:

  • Completion of the Senate Judiciary Committee Questionnaire, which asks detailed questions about employment history, requests lists of cases litigated or opinions drafted, and requires specifics of the nominee’s financial holdings and liabilities, among other things (Most of the information on this form will be made public by the Senate Judiciary Committee after the nomination.);
  • An investigation by Department of Justice lawyers of the candidate’s legal qualifications, employment history, reputation, written record, etc.;
  • Interviews of the candidate’s colleagues, opposing counsel, supervisors, acquaintances and members of the local legal community, including sitting judges, to discuss the candidate’s background and qualifications;
  • Multiple interviews with the candidate;
  • A background investigation by the FBI called a “BI,” which includes information such as the candidate’s criminal history, employment verification, and tax compliance, but also professional reputation interviews;
  • Results of a medical examination;
  • An independent, nonpartisan peer review by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which rates the candidate as:
    • Well Qualified: the prospective nominee is at the top of the legal profession in his or her legal community; has outstanding legal ability, breadth of experience, and the highest reputation for integrity; and demonstrates the capacity for sound judicial temperament.
    • Qualified: the prospective nominee satisfies the committee’s very high standards with respect to integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament, and that the committee believes that the prospective nominee is qualified to perform satisfactorily all of the duties and responsibilities required of a federal judge.
    • Not Qualified: prospective nominee does not meet the committee’s prospective nominee’s professional qualifications.

Once a candidate successfully completes the White House vetting, the president formally nominates the candidate.


"Blue Slips" Are Sent to Home State Senators

The Senate Judiciary Committee sends “blue slips” to home state senators: Once a nomination is made, the process moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is made up of 18 senators. The committee sends a “blue slip” to each home state Senator. Blue slips, letters printed on light blue paper, are used by the Committee to ask home state senators to approve Committee consideration of a nominee who would serve in their state.

Did you know?

In recent years, blue slip approval from a home state senator has been a de facto requirement to move forward with a candidate. Because of this, home state senators have the power, once again, to hold up the process by failing to return the blue slip or failing to do so in a timely manner – often without explanation.


The Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing

The Senate Judiciary Committee conducts a hearing: The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in consultation with the ranking member, will schedule a committee hearing. At the hearing, committee members have an opportunity to question a nominee. They also have an opportunity following a hearing to submit written questions to the nominee.


The Senate Judiciary Committee Votes

The Senate Judiciary Committee votes: Following the hearing and answers to any written questions that have been submitted, a committee vote is scheduled. The first time a vote is scheduled, any member of the Senate Judiciary Committee can delay the vote until the committee’s next executive business meeting (usually one week, but sometimes much longer), without reason.

Did you Know?

This is a now-routine, but unnecessary, slow down in the process. Once a nominee is voted favorably out of committee, with a majority vote, the nomination can be forwarded to the Senate floor for consideration by the entire Senate.


Senate Majority Leader Schedules a Full Vote in the U.S. Senate

The Senate majority leader must schedule the floor vote on a nominee. While the Majority Leader prioritizes the Senate’s agenda, most votes on nominations are scheduled by unanimous consent – meaning that all 100 senators agree to limit debate and allow for a vote. Without unanimous consent, there is an effective filibuster of a nominee, and the majority leader can only force a confirmation vote by filing cloture. Cloture is a time-consuming process that could consume days for each nomination. It requires 51, or a simple majority, of votes to end debate and proceed to a confirmation vote.

Did you Know?

Cloture is a time-consuming process that could consume days for each nomination. It also requires a supermajority of 60 votes to end debate and proceed to a confirmation vote.


The Senate Votes to Confirm a Nominee

When the Senate votes on confirmation – scheduled either by unanimous consent or through successfully invoking cloture – nominees are confirmed by a simple majority of senators.


Lifetime Appointment Begins

The president signs the nominee’s commission, a large, engraved document to conclude the process.

The Obstruction

Obstruction and delay has been one of the right’s go-to plays in opposition to President Obama’s administration. Instead of governing, extremist Republicans have used the political tactic of shutdown in an attempt to stop the core functions of our government. The GOP obstruction of the judicial nominations process is a clear example of how far the right will go to stop progress.

Since President Obama was elected, Senate Republicans often blocked President Obama’s nominees with no justification at all. They blocked nearly as many of President Obama’s nominees as all previous Presidents’ nominees combined. In response, Democrats in the Senate voted to reform the rules in the senate to ensure that judicial nominees with majority support are entitled to receive a simple yes or no vote in the Senate.

Unfortunately, however, even after this needed reform, Republicans in the Senate continue to do all that they can to block qualified judges from getting appointed to our nation’s federal courts, preventing us from having a fair, functioning, and diverse judiciary.

Senate Republicans are using the following tactics in an attempt to stop the President from exercising his constitutional duty to fill vacant seats on our nation’s federal courts.

Abuse of the “Blue Slip”

Once a judicial nomination is made, the Senate Judiciary Committee sends a “blue slip” – correspondence printed on light blue paper – to each senator from the state where the vacancy would be filled if the nominee were confirmed. By “returning” a blue slip, Senators indicate their approval of the nominee.

In recent years, blue slip approval from a home state senator has been a de facto requirement to move forward with a candidate. If just one senator does not return his or her blue slip, all committee action on a judicial nominee comes to a halt: no hearings, no votes. This effectively gives one Senator veto power, even if the other 99 in the Senate approve of a nominee.

Don’t feel that one Senator should have veto power over judicial nominees? Tell Sen. Ron Johnson that President Obama’s qualified judicial nominees deserve simple yes or no votes!

Failure to Recommend Candidates to the President

Because of the veto threat of the blue slip, the White House generally defers to the recommendations of home state Senators. The selection process can be slowed if home state senators fail to timely recommend candidates and GOP obstructionists have used this delay tactic to stop President Obama from making an impact on their state’s federal courts.

Take, for example, the unconscionable delay of Texas’ Senators. As of February 2014, nine Texas judicial seats were sitting vacant for more than 6,000 days – nearly 16 and a half YEARS total – because Senators Cornyn and Cruz have refused to submit recommendations to the President. One seat alone, in the Western District of Texas, has sat vacant for over 1900 days – nearly five and a half years. The result? Without judges to hear cases, cases back up and Americans lack access to their courts.

Fed up with delay? Tell Sen. Ron Johnson that President Obama’s qualified judicial nominees deserve simple yes or no votes!

GOP Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee can Delay Hearings and Committee Votes

Perhaps the most appalling of the obstruction tactics is the ability of the GOP to stop progress on judicial nominees by simply not doing their job.

Not Holding Hearings:

Now that Republicans control the Senate, they also control the Senate Judiciary Committee and have the power to schedule the hearings that they want. It is in their hands whether they are willing to confirm needed judicial nominees or slow the process to a halt.

Holding Over the Vote:

The first time a committee vote is scheduled on a nominee, any member of the Senate Judiciary Committee can delay the vote until the committee’s next executive business meeting (usually one week, but sometimes much longer), without reason. Since President Obama has taken office, this has become routine.

Demanding Full Debate Time:

According to Senate rules, a certain amount of debate time can be demanded, even if all of that time is not consistently used for actual debate. That means that Senators can put a halt to business by requiring the Senate to use up all of these hours despite the fact that many judicial nominees receive support from home state Senators and are likely to be confirmed by the Senate as a whole.

The American people want Washington to get back to work rather than play partisan political games. Tell Sen. Ron Johnson to stop obstruction for obstruction’s sake and that President Obama’s qualified judicial nominees deserve timely yes or no votes!

Religious Liberties infographic
  • [i] “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” For more information, see Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia.
LGBT Equality
  • [i] Freedom to Marry
  • [ii] Love v. Beshear, No. 3:13-cv-750, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89119 (W.D. Ky. July 1, 2014); Baskin v. Bogan, No. 1:14-cv-355, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86114 (S.D. Ind. June 25, 2014); Wolf v. Walker, No. 14-cv-64, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82242 (D. Wis. June 13, 2014); Whitewood v. Wolf, No. 1:13-cv-1861, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68771 (E.D. Penn. May 20, 2014); Geiger v. Kitzhaber, No. 6:13-cv-02256, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68171 (D. Or. May 19, 2014); Latta v. Otter, No. 13-cv-00482, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66417 (D. Idaho May 13, 2014); Henry v. Himes, No. 1:14-cv-129, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51211 (S.D. Ohio April 14, 2014); Baskin v. Bogan (S.D. Ind. April 10, 2014); DeBoer v. Snyder, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37274, 2014 WL 1100794, at *17 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 21, 2014); Tanco v. Haslam, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33463, 2014 WL 997525, at *6, 9 (M.D. Tenn. Mar. 14, 2014); De Leon v. Perry, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26236, 2014 WL 715741, at *1, 24 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 26, 2014); Lee v. Orr, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21620, 2014 WL 683680 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 21, 2014); Bostic v. Rainey, 970 F. Supp. 2d 456 (E.D. Va. 2014); Bourke v. Beshear, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17457, 2014 WL 556729, at *1 (W.D. Ky. Feb. 12, 2014); Bishop v. United States ex rel. Holder, 962 F. Supp. 2d 1252 (N.D. Okla. 2014); Obergefell v. Wymyslo, 962 F. Supp. 2d 968 (S.D. Ohio 2013); Kitchen v. Herbert, 961 F. Supp. 2d 1181, 2013 WL 6697874, at *30 (D. Utah 2013).
Reproductive Rights
  • [i] Constitutional Accountability Center, 6/30/2014
  • [ii] Constitutional Accountability Center, 6/30/2014
  • [iii] Ibid.
  • [iv] The Nation, 10/8/2012
  • [v] See Exxon Shipping v. Baker 554 U.S. 471 (2008) (five republican appointed justices reduced the punitive damages awarded to the victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill); Kelso v. Bayer Corporation, 398 F.3d 640 (7th Cir. 2005) (two republican appointed judges and one democratic appointed judge permitted a pharmaceutical company to continuing using vague warning labels).
  • [vi] Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006) (a five republican appointed justice majority narrowly read the Clean Water Act, making it harder to protect wetlands); Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S. Ct. 1426 (2013) (five republican appointed justices made it harder for plaintiffs to bring class action suits, and four democratic appointees justices would not have made it harder).
  • [vii] Ledbetter v. Goodyear, 550 U.S. 618 (2007) (a five republican appointed justice majority held that the female victim of decades of pay discrimination on the job who only learned of her biased treatment at the end of her career could not sue since the discrimination had begun more than 180 days before her court filing and the statute of limitations had therefore run); 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, 556 U.S. 247 (2009) (a five republican appointed justice majority made it harder for union workers to bring age discrimination claims).
  • [i] John F, Kennedy, A Nation of Immigrants, 1964
  • [ii] Center for American Progress, 10/2011
  • [iii] Mother Jones, March/April 2012
  • [iv] Ibid.
  • [v] Center for American Progress, 3/20/2013
  • [vi] Center for American Progress, 8/14/2013
  • [vii] Center for American Progress, 3/20/2013
  • [viii] Reuters, 9/18/2012
  • [ix] Lozano v. City of Hazelton, 724 F.3d 297 (3rd Cir. 2013) (two democratic appointed judges and one republican appointed judge struck down the City City of Hazelton, PA’s “immigrant ordinances” that made it more difficult for immigrant families to find work and housing)
  • [x] Franco-Gonzalez v. Holder, No. 10-2211-DMG, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 186258 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 23, 2013) (one democratic appointed judge held that going forward immigration courts must provide lawyers for immigrants with mental disabilities who are facing detention). See also Galarza v. City of Allentown, No. 12-3991, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 4000 (3rd Cir. March 4, 2014) (holding that local counties can be held responsible for wrongfully imprisoning/detaining individuals based upon ICE detainers).
  • [i] Center for American Progress, 7/26/2012
  • [ii] Ibid.
  • [iii] Health Care Reform Timeline, Obamacare Facts
  • [iv] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
  • [v] Center for American Progress Action Fund, 9/19/2013
  • [vi] Washington Post, 3/21/2014
  • [vii] Seven-Sky v. Holder, 661 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (one democratic and one republican appointee upholding constitutionality of the ACA, one republican appointee would have struck down the law); Mead v. Holder, 766 F. Supp. 2d 16 (D.D.C. 2011) (democratic appointed district court judge upholds constitutionality of the ACA); Thomas More Law Ctr. v. Obama, 651 F.3d 529 (6th Cir. 2011) (one democratic and one republican appointee upholding constitutionality of the ACA, one republican appointee would have struck down the law); Thomas More Law Ctr. v. Obama, 720 F. Supp. 2d 882 (E.D. Mich., 2010) (democratic appointed district court judge upholds constitutionality of the ACA); Virginia ex rel. Cuccinelli v. Sebelius, 656 F.3d 253 (4th Cir. 2011) (three democratically appointed judges upheld the constitutionality of the ACA); Commonwealth ex rel. Cuccinell v. Sebelius, 728 F. Supp. 2d 768 (E.D. Va. 2010) (republican appointed district court judge struck down the ACA); Florida v. U.S. Dep’t Health and Human Services, 648 F.3d 1235 (11th Cir. 2011) (one democratic and one republican appointee declared the ACA unconstitutional, but found it severable and thus left much of the law in place, one democratic appointed judge would have found the law constitutional); Florida v. U.S. Dep’t Health and Human Services, 780 F. Supp. 2d 1256 (N.D. Fla., 2011) (republican appointed district court judge struck down the ACA).
  • [viii] Ibid.
  • [ix] Washington Post, 1/29/2014