Don’t Let RoJo Block Pocan

I am a defender of the United States Senate. There are those, mostly on the hard-left, who would abolish it if they could. They see it as undemocratic (it is) and an institution standing in the way of the big changes they want (it’s that too).

A senator from South Dakota (population 900,000) has as much power as a senator from California (population 39 million). But let me point out that the left didn’t object to this arrangement in 1978 when a senator from South Dakota was named George McGovern and a senator from California was S.I. Hayakawa.

What the hard-left fails to recognize is that it works both ways. The House tends to be a lot more responsive to radical ideas from either side. If the Senate didn’t exist Obamacare would have been repealed. The Senate acted as a moderating force when the Republicans controlled everything under Donald Trump. Sure, eliminating the Senate could make liberal dreams come true, but it could also make their nightmares a reality.

But within the context of a valuable institution there are things that should change. For example, I would make it easier to break a filibuster by going back to the tradition requiring that senators literally keep speaking until they drop. And I’d get rid of the blue slips.

Blue slips are an arcane tradition going back to at least 1917. Under this system a president’s nominee to a federal court needs to have the approval of both senators from his or her home state. Republicans used this system to block several of Pres. Obama’s nominees, then they suspended it for several of Trump’s nominees — approving them over the objections of their home state Democratic senators. Now they’re screaming bloody murder as the majority Democrats consider dumping the whole stupid thing once and for all.

Wisconsin’s disgraceful Sen. Ron Johnson has used the blue slip process to block Judge William Pocan from the federal bench. Pocan is the gay brother of liberal Dane County Congressman Mark Pocan, who is also gay. Johnson had originally joined Sen. Tammy Baldwin in recommending Wm. Pocan, but then inexplicably withheld his blue slip, ultimately killing the nomination.

Sen. Ron Johnson killed the appointment of qualified nominee Wm. Pocan. We’ll never know why.

Did he do it because he got pressure from the hard-right not to approve a gay judge? We don’t know because senators don’t have to say why they’ve blackballed a nominee. It could be prejudice or maybe the nominee crossed them politically or personally in the past or maybe they just don’t like the fact that they were nominated by a president of the other party. In this case, maybe Johnson is paying back Mark Pocan for some real or perceived slight. We’ll likely never know.

As undemocratic as the Senate is (and in my view needs to be) the blue slip is outrageously undemocratic. It amounts to one of 100 senators being able to veto an appointment made by a freely elected president and who would have had the support of a majority of senators. And it can be done in utter secrecy with no public accounting for the reasons. It’s indefensible and it needs to go.

Give a pink slip to the blue slip.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Let RoJo Block Pocan

  1. Thanks for all the info on blue slip. I did not know what it was all about, do again my thanks. What are your thoughts on the City of Maduson revising the residential zoning ordinance,,,referred to as “Revising the Family Zoning Ordinance”. Good idea? Or Bad?? I like hearing from the previous mayors.


  2. Hey! I leave my full name based on your stated requirement that we need to do so to have our comments published, but now you let these comments come through. I call no fair.


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