The Senate Judiciary Committee will have a new top Republican in the 112th Congress.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is slated to take over the ranking member post from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), pending resolution of a fight over Senate filibuster rules that is holding up committee organizing for the new Congress.
Grassley is moving to Judiciary from a plum perch as ranking member of the tax-writing Finance Committee. A GOP rule limits Senate Republicans to no more than six years in top committee spots, and Grassley had reached his limit on Finance.
Grassley struck an agreement with Sessions in 2009 to take over the Judiciary job this year. The agreement became necessary when Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched from the Republican to the Democratic party in April 2009, suddenly opening up the ranking member spot.
Under the rules, Grassley – the most senior Republican on the Judiciary panel – would have had to claim the ranking membership right away to hold it for the full six-year limit; otherwise the position would go to Sessions.
But Grassley didn’t want to leave Finance in the middle of high-stakes negotiations over the health care bill, according to reports at the time. He worked out a deal whereby Sessions would voluntarily leave the Judiciary post for the 112th Congress. Sessions is now slated to become ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.
Grassley has served 30 years on the Judiciary panel but never served before as its top Republican. On legal issues, he is perhaps best known as a champion of whistleblowers and the False Claims Act, the statute whereby private citizens can file lawsuits against companies that defraud the government.
More recently, Grassley was a proponent of a controversial whistleblower provision in the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law that has caused anxiety among corporate counsel.
The original language of the provision gave the Securities and Exchange Commission discretion in how to reward whistleblowers who bring the agency tips that lead to successful cases. When the provision got to the Senate, it was strengthened to give successful tipsters up to 30 percent of any fine over $1 million.