When the 112th Congress convenes in January, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will likely remain chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But two of the committee’s top-ranking Democrats will not return, and Republican gains in the upper chamber mean a few new faces may show up on the left side of committee room.
One of the Democratic retirements has long been known: Sen. Arlen Specter — former ranking member and chairman of the committee — switched to the Democratic party last year, then lost in the primary to Rep. Joe Sestak.
But Tuesday night, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) lost his re-election campaign to Republican Ron Johnson. Feingold came to the Senate in 1993 and has since championed a number of left-leaning causes including protection of civil liberties, campaign finance reform and opposition to the war in Iraq. Feingold was one of the only senators to vote against the USA Patriot Act. When the Democrats took control of the Senate in 2006, Feingold became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee, which considers amendments to the Constitution and has oversight of civil liberties and civil rights laws.
The departures of Feingold and Specter will open up the chairman’s seat on two Judiciary subcommittees — the Constitution Subcommittee and the Crime and Drugs Subcommittee, helmed this year by Specter, which oversees drug policy and has oversight of the Justice Department Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s offices, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) could return as chairman of the Crime and Drugs Subcommittee; he held the post at the beginning of 2009, but relinquished his seat when Specter switched parties to take over the Human Rights and Law Subcommittee.
Should the panel keep its current set-up of seven subcommittees, two younger Democrats on the panel may get gavels — Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both of Minnesota. (Dianne Feinstein of California, the third-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary committee, does not hold a subcommittee gavel because she chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.)
Although the Republicans did not gain a majority in the Senate on Tuesday, the GOP did pick up several more seats in the chamber. The ratio of majority to minority members is used to calculate the ratio on each committee. In the current Congress where Democratic caucus controls 59 seats, the Senate Judiciary Committee was composed of 12 Democrats to seven Republicans. In the 110th when the ratio was much closer, Republicans controlled nine seats on the committee to Democrats 10 — meaning the Republicans stand to gain one or two seats on the committee. Constitution devotee Rand Paul perhaps?