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The Concept and Importance of Senatorial Courtesy Explained Perfectly

The Concept of Senatorial Courtesy
Though unofficial, the practice of senatorial courtesy plays an important role in the appointments of official positions, and has the power to make or break a nomination. OpinionFront gives you a brief idea of this concept.
Vrinda Varnekar
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
Did You Know?
The Blue Slip is a custom that was introduced in the 1900s following the tradition of senatorial courtesy, wherein the senators of a state give their opinions regarding a federal judicial nominee from that state on a blue-colored slip.
An unwritten rule in the political system of America, senatorial courtesy is defined by the Collins Dictionary as "a custom of the U.S. Senate whereby that body refuses to ratify a presidential nomination to an official position, as in a state, if the senators from that state or from the nominee's state do not approve." Senators from a nominee's home state are free to deny his/her nomination on the grounds that they feel "personally offended" by him/her, or if they feel the candidate is "personally obnoxious."

Senatorial courtesy also had another, lesser-known meaning which is almost invalid today―if the President puts forward a nominee who is a former senator, for a position in an executive office, the Senate is generally very co-operative and approves of that nomination immediately. However, this kind of courtesy is almost unheard of today.
What is Senatorial Courtesy?
Though the legal definition may seem a little confusing, the concept in itself actually means that a presidential appointment of a particular person to an official position has to be approved by the senators of the state of that nominee first. The President has to consult the senators of a particular state before nominating any candidate for a federal vacancy in that Senator's state. However, if the President and the senior senator of a particular state are not of the same political party, this courtesy is not extended.

Though this practice is an unofficial/unwritten one, it has been in existence since President Washington's time. The senatorial courtesy has the power to make or break a nomination―even if one senator from that nominee's home state disapproves, it will be seen to it that the nomination does not progress any further. Additionally, senatorial courtesy is an unspoken agreement between senators to not vote in favor of a presidential nomination if that candidate is disapproved by the senators of the nominee's home state.

Thus, if the President has to make an appointment for a federal vacancy in a particular state, traditionally he is expected to consult the senators of that state before taking a decision. If the senators of that state all approve of the desired nominee, the President announces the senators' confirmation and the proposed nomination moves ahead. This is done to avoid any future disagreements or controversies.
Senatorial courtesy allows senators of a proposed candidate's home state to disapprove of the nominee on the grounds that he or she may "personally obnoxious", or for similar reasons. It is expected that all the other senators support the opposing senator's decision to veto the nomination, so as to receive the same courtesy in return. Senators practice this courtesy with the strong belief that the same favor will be returned to them if the need ever arises.
History of Senatorial Courtesy
George Washington
George Washington
According to The National Archives, the history of senatorial courtesy goes back to the presidential rule of George Washington. In August 1789, President Washington sent a list of nominees to the Senate for port collectors, who would be appointed for collecting import taxes at ports. The list of nominees was sent to the Senate so that once the senators all approved of his proposed candidates, the process could move ahead.
The Senate voted in favor of almost all the presidential nominees, except Benjamin Fishbourn who was supposed to be appointed as the port collector in Savannah, Georgia. President Washington met with the senator from Georgia, James Gunn, who had opposed the appointment. Gunn gave his reasons for disapproval of Fishbourn, and thus, the custom of senators having to advice and consent in presidential appointments began.
Examples of Senatorial Courtesy
Senatorial courtesy is typically observed mainly in case of the appointments of federal judges, district attorneys, and as was observed in some cases, the appointment of the Supreme Court judge. Some political appointments are for a long duration, or are even permanent, and hence, it is important that only a worthy and deserving candidate be appointed to that position. Senatorial courtesy may be both a pro and a con here―if a candidate is worthy of the position but has a personal disagreement with one of the senators of his state, he or she may be overlooked for this reason. Similarly, if the senators do not give their approval (or disapproval) about a proposed candidate prior to the appointment, it may result in an incorrect kind of appointment.
Critics believe that the practice of senatorial courtesy gives too much power to one person, and that it results in the overlooking of several good candidates for an official position. According to critics, a candidate may have a checkered personal life, but a very good career record, which means that he or she is worthy of that official position. However, if a senator from the candidate's home state opposes the nominee, he or she will be overlooked for a negligible reason. Critics strongly feel that this practice may result in the selection of only diplomatic, politically correct candidates who may not always be completely suited and ideal for that particular position, especially if there is another nominee who is better at his job, but is somewhat controversial personally.