The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed today two top Justice Department nominees whose nominations had languished on the Senate Executive Calendar for much of last year.
However, the panel lost its quorum — and its ability to conduct business — before it could consider the most high-profile nomination, that of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.
At the end of 2009, the Senate returned all three nominations to the White House. President Obama promptly renominated them in January.
The panel today voted to report out of committee Tax Division nominee Mary L. Smith by a 12-7 vote. The committee endorsed Office of Legal Policy nominee Christopher Schroeder by a 16-3 vote.
As they did in her first committee vote last June, Republicans unanimously voted against sending Smith’s nomination to be Assistant Attorney General to the Senate floor. Republican senators have complained that Smith has virtually no tax law experience. The committee initially approved her last June 11 on a party line vote of 12-7.
“The Assistant Attorney General is not the kind of position that you probably would want someone learning on the job,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said at the committee meeting today.
Democrats defended Smith, noting her past work as an in-house counsel at Tyco International and as a DOJ trial attorney.
“She has more litigation, management and Justice Department experience than previous Tax Division nominees,” said Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin. He added that litigation is the “bread and butter” of the Tax Division.
On Schroeder’s nomination to be Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Policy, the Republican vote was split, with only Jon Kyl (Ariz.), John Cornyn (Texas), and Tom Coburn (Okla.) voting against Schroeder, who would be vetting judicial nominations if he is confirmed.
Schroeder, a Duke University law professor, has been a critic of President George W. Bush’s national security policies, which is a source of concern for some Republicans. The panel first reported him out of committee by voice vote on July 28, 2009.
“I find it very troubling that someone with those views would be vetting the judges nominated by the president,” Kyl said.
Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the panel’s ranking Republican, said Schroeder, a former chief counsel on the committee to then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), said the professor is a “strong partisan.” But the Republican senator said Schroeder’s views shouldn’t disqualify him from leading the Office of Legal Policy, because the office “has some political component to it.”
“The nominee is smart and capable,” Sessions said.
The panel also held over several judicial nominations and DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics nominee James P. Lynch. The committee will consider Lynch and Johnsen at its meeting next Thursday.
“I must admit I am troubled by the number of nominations that get held,” panel Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) complained. “Vote them up, or vote them down.”
This report was updated at 2:02 p.m.