Posts Tagged ‘Orrin Hatch’
Monday, December 12th, 2011

David B. Barlow, who was sworn in on Friday as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, said he finds it “profoundly satisfying to wake up each morning and to know my job is to see that justice be done.”


Barlow, 40, was sworn in at Salt Lake City’s federal courthouse by U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart as Barlow’s wife, Crystal, and their four children looked on, according to an account in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Barlow had the strong backing of Utah’s two Republican senators, Orrin Hatch and Mike S. Lee. Indeed, Barlow was an aide to Lee, a Tea Party insurgent who replaced Sen. Robert S. Bennett, a Republican who was ousted in the state’s nomination contest in 2010.

Barlow worked as an attorney at the Chicago-based firm Sidley and Austin for 10 years before jumping into politics, according to the Tribune.

“He takes work seriously but doesn’t take himself seriously,” Michael W. Davis, an attorney at Sidley and Austin, told the Tribune. “Our loss is your gain. He will serve the bench … and the people of Utah very well indeed.”

In his swearing in, Barlow used a line from George Sutherland, the only Utah-native to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.  In his role as U.S. Attorney, he will “see that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer,” Barlow told the Tribune.

President Barack Obama disappointed Democrats when he decided to nominate Barlow instead of pushing for someone from his own party, as Main Justice reported recently.  In July, Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, told the Tribune that Obama seemed to be ignoring the many qualified Democratic attorneys in the state.

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Monday, June 28th, 2010

Orrin Hatch (Gov)

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said at the nomination hearing Monday for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan that the “most important quality for judicial service is the nominee’s judicial philosophy.”

“Will the Constitution control her or will she try to control the Constitution?” Hatch asked.

He added: “The Senate and the American people need to know what kind of justice Ms. Kagan will be.”

The full statement is embedded below.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) delivered the following remarks today before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to welcome you back to the Judiciary Committee, Ms. Kagan. Something tells me this is likely your last confirmation hearing. As America’s founders designed it, the Senate’s role of advice and consent is a check on the President’s power to appoint. Fulfilling that role requires us to evaluate a nominee’s qualifications for the particular position to which she has been nominated. Qualifications for judicial service include both legal experience and judicial philosophy. While legal experience summarizes the past, judicial philosophy describes how a nominee will approach judging in the future. My primary goal in this confirmation process is to get the best picture I can of Ms. Kagan’s judicial philosophy, primarily from her record but also from this hearing. I have to make my decision whether to support her nomination on the basis of evidence, not blind faith.

“I have never considered the lack of judicial experience to be an automatic disqualifier for a judicial nominee. Approximately one-third of the 111 men and women who have served on the Supreme Court had no previous judicial experience. What they did have, however, was an average of more than 20 years of private practice experience. In other words, Supreme Court nominees have had experience behind the bench as a judge, before the bench as a lawyer, or both.

“Ms. Kagan worked for two years in a law firm, the rest of her career in academia and politics. As the Washington Post described it, she brings experience ‘in the political circus that often defines Washington.’ One of my Democratic colleagues on this committee recently said that Ms. Kagan’s strongest qualifications for the Supreme Court are her experience crafting policy and her ability to build consensus. The value of such experience depends on whether you view the Supreme Court as a political circus or view its role as crafting policy.

“I believe that the most important qualification for judicial service is a nominee’s judicial philosophy, or her approach to interpreting and applying the law to decide cases. This is what judges do, but different judges do it in radically different ways. Our liberty, however, requires limits on government, and that includes limits on judges. Chief Justice Marshall wrote in Marbury v. Madison that America’s founders intended the Constitution to govern the judicial branch as much as the legislative branch. Unfortunately, many judges today do not see it that way but believe that they may govern the Constitution.

“The Senate, and the American people, need to know which kind of Justice Ms. Kagan would be. Will the Constitution control her or will she try to control the Constitution? Does she believe that the words of the Constitution and statutes can be separated from their meaning, so that the people and their elected representatives put words on the page but judges may determine what those words mean? Does she believe it is valid for judges to mold and steer the law to achieve certain social ends? Does she believe that a judge’s personal experiences and values may be the most important element in her decisions? Does she believe that courts exist to protect certain interests? Does she believe that judges may control the Constitution by changing its meaning? Does she believe that judges may change the meaning of statutes in order to meet what judges believe are new social objectives?

“These are just some of the questions that go to the heart of a nominee’s judicial philosophy. I want to clarify, as best I can, what kind of Justice Ms. Kagan would be. To do that, I have to examine her entire record. As in previous hearings, there will no doubt be some tension during this hearing between what Senators want to know and what Ms. Kagan is willing to tell us. Unlike previous hearings, however, Ms. Kagan has already outlined quite clearly what she believes Supreme Court nominees should be willing to talk about in a hearing like this. Without this information, Ms. Kagan has written, the Senate ‘becomes incapable of either properly evaluating nominees or appropriately educating the public.’

“Ms. Kagan identified the critical inquiry about a Supreme Court nominee as ‘the votes she would cast, the perspective she would add, and the direction in which she would move the institution….But the bottom-line issue in the appointments process must concern the kinds of judicial decisions that will serve the country and, correlatively, the effect the nominee will have on the Court’s decisions. If that is too results oriented…so be it.’

“Ms. Kagan outlined that approach, which she argued is necessary for Supreme Court confirmation hearings to be more than vacuity and farce, in a law journal article when she was a tenured law professor after working for this committee on a Supreme Court confirmation. She was not a student writing a blog about some hypothetical topic that she knew nothing about. I am confident that Senators will give Ms. Kagan many opportunities in the next few days to provide the information and insight that she has argued is critical for the Senate properly to make a decision on her confirmation.

“This is a critical decision, and it is about more than just one person. Our decision will affect liberty itself. George Washington said this in his farewell address: ‘The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all.’ The people’s right to make and alter the Constitution means nothing if the people choose the Constitution’s words but judges choose what those words mean. A judge with that much power would effectively take an oath to support and defend not the Constitution, but herself. I hope that this hearing will help me further understand what kind of Justice Ms. Kagan would be.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

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Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Utah’s attorney general urged Christine Varney and Eric Holder to investigate how college football orchestrates its post-season bowl games, according to Legal Newsline, a Web site that covers the state Atorneys General.

Utah AG Mark Shurtleff told the Web site that the Attorney General and his top antitrust enforcer were “very interested” in the matter when he discussed it with them at the spring meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General this week.

“This could be a multi-hundred million lawsuit,” Shurtleff told Legal Newsline, but the ultimate goal “is not to get money but to get them to change the system to be more competitive.”

The Bowl Championship Series has come under fire for its complicated system for picking which teams play in its championships, which tends to favor traditional powerhouses.

Lawmakers -particularly Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch- raised concerns about the system after the University of Utah wasn’t chosen to compete even though it had a perfect season.

The Senate antitrust subcommittee, of which Hatch is the ranking member, hosted a hearing on the matter last year.

In January, the Justice Department told Hatch it was looking at opening an antitrust inquiry into the BCS system.

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Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Senators took a tough line this afternoon on the proposed merger between Comcast Corporation and NBC Universal in opening statements at a hearing on implications of the proposed merger this afternoon, before recessing for several floor votes.

The hearing, before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights Subcommittee, was the second on Capitol Hill today. This morning, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee also heard about the proposal.

In December, Comcast announced it would buy NBC from its current parent, General Electric. The deal, which would combine one of the largest cable providers with one of the largest content companies, has the potential to reshape the media industry. Consumer groups and smaller cable and content companies have raised concerns about the deal. Approval of the deal is in the hands of Executive Branch regulators.

The Senate subcommittee’s chairman,  Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), said the deal raised serious concerns. “Should the agencies decide to allow this merger,” Kohl said in an initial statement, “we believe it is essential they insist on strong conditions to protect consumers.” ”

The subcommittee’s ranking Republican,  Orrin Hatch of Utah, also said that the deal could harm consumers. A merger  between a leading video distributor and a leading content provider could result in “a significant foreclosure of competition,” he said. And, Hatch warned, there was a possibility that Comcast could “use NBC’s content as a weapon” against rivals.

In his remarks, Kohl outlined four areas of concern: Comcast would be able to deny or raise the price of “must have” NBC programming for rivals; Comcast could move NBC’s free programming to cable channels; the merger could make it more difficult for independent programmers to get onto Comcast distribution; and whether the union of the two giants could hurt the still nascent market for online video.

The public commitments Comcast outlined in announcing the merger, Kohl said, only provided a “starting point” to any discussions.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who previously worked for NBC, said he did not trust the company’s word based on his previous career. If an independent producer wants NBC to carry his show, Franken said, it is routine practice for the network to demand part-ownership of the show. That was “completely contrary to what the networks said they would do” in prior negotiations, he said.

The tough line from both sides of the aisle contrasted this morning’s hearing on the House side of the Capitol complex, where lawmakers largely raised localized concerns about network affiliates in their districts, and concerns about net neutrality issues.

Lawmakers split along largely partisan lines, with Democrats urging caution and Republicans arguing that the deal does not raise serious antitrust concerns.

The transaction, “if approved, could trigger dramatic changes in the way consumers access video programming, the way independent programmers distribute their works, and in the way all video distributors compete for customers,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the full Energy and Commerce Committee, in his initial remarks.

The proposed joint venture raised “legitimate concerns” about the leverage the combined firm might be able to exercise over competitors and consumers, said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.)

But Republicans on the panel urged regulators at the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, who have to sign off on the deal, to conduct a speedy review. “There is little to suggest” that the combination “would seriously threaten competition in the media industry” said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who is the ranking member of the Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee.

The opening statements seemed to suggest most legislators were interested in what kinds of conditions might be imposed on the deal, rather than whether the deal should be blocked outright. The hearing should explore “whether there is the potential for consumer harm, and whether the merger should be conditioned,” said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) who chairs the subcommittee.

In his remarks, Waxman also said that, while the transaction did raise questions about its impact on independent producers and the future of online television, the deal could also benefit consumers.

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

A bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) unveiled legislation today that would prohibit the Justice Department from using funds to prosecute 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his alleged coconspirators in a federal court.

And Graham, flanked by his bill co-sponsors, told reporters on Capitol Hill that he that he isn’t playing politics over closing the Guantánamo Bay military prison. That was in response to President Obama’s complaint Monday on You Tube that “pretty rank politics” were slowing down his plan to relocate or prosecute about 200 terrorism suspects at the U.S. military base in Cuba.

Graham was flanked by seven co-sponsors of his measure, Jim Webb (D-Va.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) John McCain (R-Ariz.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

Lindsey Graham (Gov)

Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that KSM and his alleged accomplices would be tried in civilian court in New York, instead of a military tribunal. Now, the DOJ is “scrambling” to find other locations for the civilian trial after sharp criticism about security and cost from key politicians, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“This whole process makes no sense,” Graham said. “It’s not about ‘rank politics’.”

One after another the bill co-sponsors came up to the microphone to denounce civilian trials for terrorism suspects, including Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly tried to ignite explosives in his underpants on a Dec. 25 Detroit-bound airplane flight.

Webb said holding non-military trials for terrorism suspects could “benefit the international terrorist movement.” Lieberman, who chairs the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called the trials “justice according to ‘Alice in Wonderland’.” Sessions, who is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said they are “a big mistake.”

“I think the president would do himself a great favor if he would overrule and say we’re not going to try these people here [in this country],” said Hatch, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Graham told reporters that he doesn’t expect his bill to have a problem passing the Senate after the recent discussions concerning KSM and Abdulmutallab. The Senate defeated a similar proposal from Graham last November, tabling it on a 54-45 vote. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) introduced a bill in the House last month that would prevent terrorism suspects from receiving civilian trials.

The fiscal 2011 Justice Department budget unveiled on Monday requests that Congress allocate $73 million for transferring, prosecuting and incarcerating Guantánamo Bay detainees.

“Yesterday, the president introduced his budget and he said that anybody who had a good idea on how to get some savings in the budget let us know,” Barrasso said. “Well we all want to let the president know that there is a lot of savings to be had by not having these trials anywhere in the United States and keeping them in a military court. I think basically the Attorney General got it wrong.”

Videos of a Fox News interview with Chambliss, comments from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) at the press conference and a Fox News interview with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) about the House legislation are embedded below.

This post has been corrected from an earlier version.

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, told his colleagues today that he will formally ask the Justice Department to identify who decided that the alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber should be treated as a civilian and not as an enemy combatant.

Jeff Sessions (Getty Images

The FBI — not the military — took Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab into custody on Dec. 25 on U.S. soil after he allegedly attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair testified yesterday on Capitol Hill that his office was not consulted about the use of FBI agents and that special terrorism investigators should have handled Abdulmutallab, according to The Washington Post.

It is unclear who made the decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a civilian. FBI Director Robert Mueller testified yesterday before the committee that the events were “fast-moving” and authorities had “no time” to get other investigators in place. But Mueller said decisions were made “appropriately,” including the decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights.

Sessions said yesterday that it seemed the decision was made “on the fly.” He added that the FBI’s handling of Abdulmutallab could have precluded the U.S. government from obtaining valuable intelligence.

“I think this is a matter of serious import,” Sessions said yesterday. “I don’t think we have clarity of rules. We need to get it straight.”

Democrats voiced support for the decisions made in the aftermath of the alleged attempted bombing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday that the FBI’s actions were “totally appropriate.” Senators were unable to point to an example of authorities putting an alleged terrorist apprehended on American soil immediately into military custody.

Here’s the letter Sessions and Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) sent today to Attorney General Eric Holder about the matter:

We are writing to ask who within the Department of Justice made the decision on Christmas day to treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect, entitled to Miranda warnings and the right to counsel, rather than as a unprivileged enemy belligerent subject to military detention and a full opportunity to gain intelligence. We would also like to know the basis for this decision, including whether the administration has a protocol or policy in place for handling al Qaeda terrorists captured in the United States.

At yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller described how Joint Terrorism Task Force agents initially interrogated Mr. Abdulmutallab without Miranda warnings for the purpose of obtaining intelligence information.  He stated that this short initial interrogation occurred before the terror suspect was taken into surgery and that the decision to provide Miranda warnings and pursue criminal charges was made shortly thereafter “in consultation with the Department of Justice and others in the administration prior to the agents going back in later that evening to interview him.” Director Mueller declined to name the person within the Department who made the decision, stating that he would first have to get approval from the Department. Nonetheless, he made clear the decision was not made “at the local level.”

The Department of Justice’s decision to afford this terrorist Miranda warnings and a civilian prosecution appears to have been made without soliciting input from the Department’s administration partners in the war on terrorism. According to testimony before both the Judiciary Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Department officials who made this decision failed to consult key officials who also have a major role in counterterrorism and intelligence gathering. Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, testified that he was not consulted.  Similar testimony was provided by Director Mueller, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter. Furthermore, Director Mueller testified he did not know whether Defense Secretary Robert Gates was consulted on this decision, which is remarkable given that Mr. Abdulmutallab appears to fit cleanly within the Military Commissions Act definition of an “unprivileged enemy belligerent.”

We believe the Department’s hasty decision to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Abdulmutallab deprived our intelligence agencies of a critical opportunity to interrogate an al Qaeda-trained terrorist who was fresh from training in Yemen. Had Mr. Abdulmutallab been transferred to military custody as an unlawful enemy belligerent, our government would have had more time to gain an understanding of the terrorist training and recruiting network on the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the activities of al Qaeda in Nigeria. More importantly, a thorough and unrushed interrogation might have revealed information to detect and disrupt the next terrorist attack. However, because Mr. Abdulmutallab was given Miranda rights and ceased cooperating, that information is now lost.

It is important that Congress fully understand the basis for the decision in this case and the process by which it was reached so that we can be assured that an appropriate process is in place to address the next terrorist who is captured and detained. To that end, please let us know who within the Department made the decision on Christmas day, as well as the basis and rationale behind the decision. Additionally, please let us know whether a protocol or policy is in place to guide the administration’s action in the next terrorism case.

This post has been updated from an earlier version.

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel hit implacable Republican opposition. (Image via CAP Action Fund)

The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold new hearings on Dawn Johnsen to become the new assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.

The GOP senators argue that the failed Christmas Day bombing as well as other events require the panel to hold fresh hearings on her nomination, which the Senate returned to the White House without action on Dec. 24, Roll Call first reported yesterday. President Barack Obama intends to re-nominate her, despite Republican concerns about her criticism of the George W. Bush administration’s national security policies.

The letter obtained by Main Justice and signed by Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) says:

In recent weeks, there have been several incident threatening our national security and underscoring the need for more aggressive counterterrorism efforts, information sharing, and military and intelligence initiatives to uproot and eliminate al Qaeda and its affiliates from footholds around the globe.  At a time like this, it is essential that the Department of Justice provide sound legal guidance to the various intelligence and counterterrorism agencies within our government.

We believe many unanswered questions remain about Dawn Johnsen’s suitability to guide our Nation’s legal response to the war on terror through the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Mrs. Johnsen’s record calls into question her dedication to aggressive Executive action in national security matters. She has supported backward-looking investigations and written that the last administration’s detainee policies “failed miserably.” She has consistently advocated placing unnecessary constraints on the President and our intelligence professionals, constraints not required by our laws or Constitution.  Based on her statements, it is unclear whether Ms. Johnsen would be able to set aside her personal biases and provide the type of objective, yet aggressive, constitutional legal advice the President will need to effectively combat the continued terror threat. Accordingly, we ask that you hold a new hearing on her nomination before scheduling her nomination for a Committee vote.

We do not make this request lightly, but feel compelled to do so based on the nominee’s record and the position to which she has been nominated. In recent years, the OLC has been critical in authorizing appropriate government action to combat al Qaeda. For example, the Clinton administration OLC reportedly determined as a matter of law that the Executive Order banning assassinations did not apply to the targeting of top al Qaeda leadership, a ruling that appears to have been vital to CIA efforts in the 1990s and even America’s aerial drone program today. It is critical that OLC be led by a lawyer who is willing to support and authorize all necessary and appropriate action in our Nation’s continued war against al Qaeda.

For the Committee to properly discharge its advice and content duty, we believe a second hearing is necessary to evaluate Ms. Johnsen’s nomination and approach to the serious national security questions currently facing the administration.

A spokesperson for Leahy was unable to comment immediately. A spokesperson for Sessions, the ranking Republican, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter and whether Republicans would call for hearings for former DOJ Tax Division nominee Mary L. Smith and ex-Office of Legal Policy nominee Christopher Schroeder. Obama intends to re-nominate the two former nominees, who were returned to the White House with Johnsen on Dec. 24.

Marge Baker, executive vice president of the liberal advocacy group, People For the American Way, released this statement:

“This latest maneuver by Senate Republicans is anything but a good faith effort to protect national security. We absolutely face serious threats, and the Obama administration needs all hands on deck. Yet Senate Republicans are holding up crucial nominees like Johnsen and Erroll Southers, the president’s nominee to head TSA.

“Dawn Johnsen was nominated over 11 months ago, and Senators have had months following her hearing to seek additional information and to consult with her. That never happened. But now that the media is reporting that Johnsen has 60 votes for confirmation, Senate Republicans are suddenly interested in engaging her.

“The request for a second hearing is a transparent and brazen effort at obstruction, and too much is at stake to waste time on it. The seven Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have had their say - they voted in lockstep against Johnsen. But 60 Senators - including senior Senate Republican Richard Lugar - support her.

“Dawn Johnsen is widely considered to have the integrity, experience, and acumen to lead the Office of Legal Counsel. She also has an abiding commitment to our national security and rule of law. We strongly urge the Judiciary Committee to quickly move the resubmitted nomination to the floor for an up-down vote.”

Andrew Ramonas contributed to this report.

This post has been updated from an earlier version.

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats decided today not to move a media shield bill directly on the Senate calendar, skipping the normal step of a committee markup, despite growing Democratic frustration over the legislation’s lack of progress in the committee.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a sponsor of the legislation that would make it harder for courts to order reporters to divulge their sources, initially asked that the bill be taken off the committee’s agenda and moved to the floor calendar. But, after discussion, he withdrew the request, saying he would be willing to meet with panel Republicans before the next committee business meeting to discuss GOP concerns about the bill, which has languished in committee since April.

“I haven’t seen a bill like this that has been around so long,” Schumer said at Thursday’s meeting.

Republicans have been skeptical of the legislation’s effect on national security. A substitute amendment adopted during the last committee meeting that addressed some of those issues failed to ease GOP concerns about the bill.

Panel Republicans said they plan to offer more than 20 amendments to the bill, irking Democrats who want to move the bill out of committee before Christmas.

“The fact of the matter is I think it’s not unusual for this committee to work through amendments,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who once chaired the panel.

The committee did take some action on the bill Thursday. Lawmakers adopted, by unanimous consent, an amendment offered by Republican  Jon Kyl of Arizona. The amendment would require the Justice Department’s Inspector General to audit the use of the legislation from the time of bill’s enactment to the end of 2012.

But the panel held over a Republican amendment offered by Hatch. The amendment would not prevent courts from obtaining information from journalists who are reporting on cases that involve sex offenses or threats of those crimes.

The work on the journalist shield bill came in the same session that the panel approved two nominations for Justice Department posts and two U.S. Attorneys.

Death Benefits for First Responders. The committee also gave its voice-vote approval legislation that would authorize the use $5 million from the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund to finance death benefits for volunteer and nonprofit first responders and ambulance crew members. The forfeiture fund helps finance state and local law enforcement activities with proceeds from the sale of forfeited assets.

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Senators waded into a transatlantic antitrust dispute on behalf of Oracle Corp.  today, urging European regulators to approve the database software company’s proposed acquisition of Sun Microsystems Inc.

The $7.4 billion deal cleared the Justice Department’s antitrust review earlier this year, but has been held up by European Union officials in Brussels who issued objections to the sale in early November.

The bipartisan letter, signed by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and 57 others comes on the heels of a public back-and-forth between antitrust officials in Washington and Brussels over the deal.

The letter echoes a recent DOJ Antitrust Division statement asserting that the deal did not raise competition concerns.

“We respectfully request the European Commission expedite the completion of its investigation into this transaction,” the letter says. “The United States Department of Justice, after an intensive investigation, closed its inquiry into this transaction without taking any action.”

The letter also expresses concern that the delay might force layoffs at Sun. Oracle’s combative chief executive, Larry Ellison, said that Sun is losing $100 million each month the purchase is held up. Sun also said last month it would cut 3,000 jobs due to uncertainty in the pending sale.

European concerns focus on MySQL, an open source database that Sun owns. Programmers can access and build on MySQL for free. Critics argue that if Oracle owns MySQL, it will stop investing in the software and keep it from developing into a product that could compete with Oracle’s more sophisticated databases.

Critics of the deal fired back at the letter. “Resorting to lobbying is typically what companies do when they can’t win on the substance of a case,” said Florian Mueller, a public policy advisor to MySQL founder Michael “Monty” Widenius, who has campaigned against the deal.

“It would have been a better idea for the 59 senators to send a letter to Larry Ellison, asking him to commit to divest MySQL,” he said.

Hatch and Kerry announced the letter in a joint press release. The letter reflects long-simmering concerns among lawmakers about European antitrust enforcement. “I have become increasingly concerned about the growing body of evidence that foreign regulatory agencies are unfairly using their review processes to impede the business of American corporations,” Hatch said in the statement.

When European regulators blocked General Electric’s bid for Honeywell International in 2001, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) sent a similar letter urging the European Commission to reconsider.

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Members of Congress introduced legislation in the House and Senate Tuesday to improve retirement benefits for rank-and-file federal prosecutors.

The approximately 5,500 Assistant U.S. Attorneys around the country receive fewer retirement benefits than corrections and probation officers — a fact that has long rankled the prosecutors.

The bipartisan Enhanced Restitution Enforcement And Equitable Treatment Act of 2009 would bring AUSA retirement assistance in line with benefits for other law enforcement officials. The bill would also improve Justice Department efforts to collect fines and other money owed to the federal government in order to help fund the retirement benefits.

“Having served as a prosecutor for many years in Vermont, I know well the integral role prosecutors play in the administration of justice and keeping our communities safe,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who introduced the bill in the Senate, said in a statement. “By enhancing the retirement benefits for these prosecutors, we make service as an Assistant U.S Attorney a more attractive path for talented young lawyers who are considering public service.”

Congress has mulled legislation on AUSA retirement benefits for the past decade. In the last Congress, retirement assistance bills in the Senate and House did not move out of committee.

More recently, “fallout” from the botched corruption case against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), in which prosecutors from the Public Integrity Section at Main Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alaska are under investigation for errors that led to withholding of exculpatory evidence from the defense, may have contributed to delays in introducing the legislation, according to an account on the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Web site.

Steven Cook, president of NAASUA, said an improved retirement benefit package is the “single most important issue” for AUSAs. His organization, which serves as a voice for AUSAs in the 94 U.S. Attorney offices, met earlier this year with members of Congress and Attorney General Eric Holder about AUSA retirement assistanc

“It being introduced, in the House and Senate, is especially important to our members,” Cook, an AUSA in the Eastern District of Tennessee, told Main Justice.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a former chairman of the Judiciary panel, in addition to Leahy. The House legislation is sponsored by Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who are both members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Under the current system, Assistant U.S. Attorneys receive fewer retirement benefits than probation officers, corrections officers, and some corrections employees not serving in a law enforcement position.  The legislation will also help off-set the retirement benefits by bolstering the Department of Justice’s ability to recover money owed to the Federal Government as a result of fines or other judgments.