Senate Committee on the Judiciary

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The Senate Committee on the Judiciary (informally Senate Judiciary Committee) is a standing committee of the United States Senate. The Judiciary Committee is charged with conducting hearings prior to the Senate votes on whether to confirm or not confirm prospective federal judges (including Supreme Court justices) nominated by the president. In recent years, this role has made the committee increasingly a point of contention, with numerous party-line votes and standoffs over which judges should be approved. The committee also has a broad jurisdiction over matters relating to federal criminal law. Additionally, it is Senate procedure that all proposed Constitutional Amendments pass through the Judiciary Committee.



Patrick LeahyDVT
Herb KohlDWI
Dianne FeinsteinDCA
Russ FeingoldDPA
Chuck SchumerDNY
Richard DurbinDIL
Ben CardinDMD
Sheldon WhitehouseDRI
Ron WydenDOR
Amy KlobucharDMN
Edward KaufmanDCO
Arlen SpecterRME
Orrin HatchRUT
Charles GrassleyRIA
Jon KylRAZ
Jeff SessionsRAL
Lindsey GrahamRSC
John CornynRTX
Tom CoburnROK


Activities in the 110th Congress


The Senate Committee on the Judiciary is responsible for recommending the confirmation of federal court judges to the full Senate.

Bush withdraws nominees in face of Democratic opposition

The Bush administration announced that four of its judicial nominees who had been stalled in the committee would not be resubmitted in the 110th Congress. William Haynes II, William G. Myers III and Michael Wallace all asked to have their nominations withdrawn and Terrence Boyle, a federal judge in North Carolina, was apparently informed that his nomination would not be resubmitted. The announcement came after incoming chairman Patrick Leahy stated that only "consensus nominees" would be recommended for confirmation by the committee. "Republican officials" told the Washington Post that Bush would submit three nominees blocked in 2006 to the Senate as well as 30 other judicial nominees.[1]

Haynes had been nominated for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, as the top lawyer for the Pentagon, had designed the War on Terror detainee trial policy struck down by the Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Myers had been nominated for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and blocked by Democrats due to his views on environmental law. Wallace had been nominated for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and was opposed by Democrats, civil rights associations and the American Bar Association. Boyle had been nominated for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was opposed by Democrats for the high rate at which his decisions were overturned by higher courts and his rulings in civil rights and disability cases.[2]


Justice Department refuses to provide documents

In November 2006, Leahy, who at the time was the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, requested two documents from the Justice Department which detailed U.S. policy on the detention and interrogation of terror suspects. The Justice Department refused to provide Leahy with the documents, saying it "was not in a position" to give him copies. In a statement e-mailed to reporters in early January 2007, Leahy said he was disappointed by the administration's decision to "brush off" his request, but promised to continue pursuing the matter. He stated, "I have advised the Attorney General that I plan to pursue this matter further at the Committee’s first oversight hearing of the Department of Justice." [3] [4]

Arar investigation

In 2002, Maher Arar, a Canadian and Syrian citizen, was detained at JFK Airport in New York by U.S. Agents acting on intellegence provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police identifying Arar as a terrorist. Subsequently, Arar was flown to Jordan, then driven to Syria where he alleges that he was tortured. [5] Upon further investigation, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found that their intelligence was false and Arar was released with a formal apology from the Canadian government.

In January 2007, shortly following Canada's exoneration, Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) launched an investigation into the incident. They wished to investigate the case and legality of the extraordinary rendition, specifically why the U.S. government did not deport Arar to Canada instead of Syria. In reaction to a top-secret briefing, Leahy directed a statement to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claiming that, if the alleged actions were true, it would be "a black mark on us." [6] [7]

US Attorneys Bill

The US Attorneys Bill was introduced before the committee amidst the case of the dismissal of seven US Attorneys. Allegedly, the U.S. Department of Justice enacted its right, given to it by the Patriot Act, to dismiss US Attorneys and appoint new ones without Senate approval. The bill attempted to revoke this right on the grounds that it allowed for cronyism and partisan dismissal.

On February 15, 2007, Republican Senators voted against the bill despite earlier support. The Republicans held up the bill to allegedly vie for the passage of Republican-backed ammendments to other bills. [8]


In March 2007, the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, was scheduled to hear testimony from four recently fired U.S. attorney's including: David Iglesias, H.E. Cummins III, Carol Lam and John McKay. The hearing is focused around Republican Executive and Legislative branch interference into corruption inquiries. [9]

David Inglesias was involved in an investigation into Congressional corruption in New Mexico. He was contacted by two Members of Congress in regards to an investigation that was not yet made public. Inglesias has stated that he would name the two Members if he was "directed to do so" at the March 6th hearing.[10]

Carol Lam investigated Randy "Duke" Cunningham, which has led to multiple indictments and convictions. Her testimony may expose additional members of Congress.[11]

March 5th, 2007, Michael Battle, the executive director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys resigned. Michael Battle fired 7 U.S. attorneys. [12]

March 12th, 2007, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked the Judiciary Subcommittee to call Karl Rove to testify regarding his role in the U.S. Attorney firing controversy. Over the weekend New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh stated that he had contacted Rove to for assistance in removing Inglesias; Rove allegedly replied "He’s gone". [13]

Main article: Bush administration U.S. attorney firings controversy

On July 24, 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified for the second time before the Judiciary Committee on various issues, including the U.S. attorney firings and domestic wiretapping. Gonzales faced heavy criticism for his testimony, which several committee members, Democrat and Republican, disputed. In particular, Democratic congressional leaders denied having agreed to the continuation of classified domestic surveillance operations that the Justice Department deemed illegal, as claimed by Gonzales. Ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) stated, "I do not find your testimony credible, candidly." Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) bluntly stated that he did not trust the Attorney General. Citing discrepancy in sworn testimony and essentially accusing Gonzales of lying, the committee also stated that it would review the Attorney General's testimony to see if his "credibility [had] been breached to the point of being actionable," in order to file perjury charges.[1] The committee also threatened to hold an inherent contempt trial if Gonzales does not appoint a special prosecutor to challenge the White House's claim of executive privilege in the U.S. attorney firings investigation.[2]

Democrats call for perjury probe

After a July 24, 2007 House Judiciary Committee hearing where Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified about the NSA warrantless surveillance program, many Democrats felt that he had purposely tried to mislead them.[3]

In the hearing, Gonzales stated that a March 10, 2004 White House meeting with Congressional leaders was not about the Terrorist Surveillance Program, but about something else. However, a document from then-intelligence chief John Negroponte to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert stated that the March 10th meeting was indeed on the Terrorist Surveillance Program, contradicting Gonzales' testimony.[4]

On July 26th, Patrick Leahy (D-Va.) stated that he would give Gonzales a week to revise his testimony or he would ask Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to conduct a perjury inquiry. Leahy stated, "I'll ask the inspector general to determine who's telling the truth."[5]

Other Democrats expressed dissatisfaction with the one week delay, however, and moved for an immediate perjury probe. Later in the day, after Leahy had given his one week ultimatum, Judiciary Committee Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked Solicitor General Paul Clement to appoint a special counsel to investigate possible perjury charges against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.[6]

Schumer commented that Gonzales was "a man who has potentially misled Congress and the American people time and time again," and that "We simply cannot stand for this any longer." Schumer said that the evidence showed that Gonzales clearly lied, and that he would give Gonzales "no wiggle room" to clarify otherwise.[7]

Specter calls for clarification on Gonzales' testimony

On July 30, 2007, Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued an ultimatum to the Bush administration, giving them 18 hours to resolve and explain the contradictions in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s congressional testimony.[8]

The letter, due at noon on July 31, 2007, had the potential of being a turning point in the Gonzales controversy. Specter stated, "The administration has committed to producing such a letter." He also commented that he would wait until after the letter is produced to talk with the press about his feelings on a push for Gonzales's resignation.[9]

Leahy rejects Gonzales's clarification

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales issued a letter on August 1, 2007 in response to widespread outcry from Democrats and some Republicans that his July testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee was misleading. In the letter, he attempted to highlight a distinction between the Terrorist Surveillance Program and other classified NSA programs.[10] He wrote,

"I recognize that the use of the term ‘Terrorist Surveillance Program’ and my shorthand reference to the ‘program’ publicly ‘described by the President’ may have created confusion, particularly for those who are knowledgeable about the NSA activities authorized in the presidential order described by the DNI, and who may be accustomed to thinking of them or referring to them together as a single NSA ‘program.’"[11]

Leahy, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, criticized the letter, calling it "legalistic" and "not what one should expect from the top law enforcement officer of the United States." He continued, saying, "It is time for full candor to enforce the law and promote justice, rather than word parsing."[12]

Leahy issued another deadline for Gonzales to properly explain his testimony, this time giving him until July 3rd, 2007, two days after his Wednesday letter was issued.[13]

Leahy sets new deadline for wiretapping documents

On August 8th, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) set a new deadline for the White House to produce documents related to the N.S.A.’s wiretapping program, moving the previous deadline from July 18th to August 20th. Leahy stated that two White House officials had also indicated that they might only need until August 1st to prepare the documents.[14]

In a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, Leahy wrote, "Despite my patience and flexibility, you have rejected every proposal, produced none of the responsive documents, provided no basis for any claim of privilege and no accompanying log of withheld documents."[15]

White House fails to meet new deadline

On August 20, 2007, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) held a press conference to announce that the White House had again ignored the Committee's deadline for subpoenaed information on the N.S.A. warrantless wiretapping program. Though indicating that he would like to negotiate with White House counsel Fred Fielding, Leahy said that he was prepared to pursue a contempt vote once Congress returned from the August recess.[16]

The Office of the Vice President responded separately to the subpoenas, again asserting that the Office was somehow outside the Executive Office of the President, and thus unavailable as a target for the Judiciary Committees. Leahy objected to this response arguing that it had no basis in the law. He said, “My answer would be look at the law. But these are people that don't look at the law very often.”[17]


Tougher congressional corruption laws

The committee marked up a bill that would give federal prosecutors more time and resources to uncover wrongdoing by lawmakers while strengthening current anti-corruption laws on October 25, 2007. The bill was co-sponsored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and would authorize giving $100 million to corruption investigations and prosecutions over the next four years.[18]

Leahy introduced a version of the bill in January, 2007 but failed to attach it to the lobbying reform package. On August 2, 2007 when the Senate approved the final version of the lobbying bill Leahy reintroduced the anti-corruption bill with Cornyn’s additions. A judiciary committee aide doubted if the bill would get a floor vote because of the crowded end-of-year calendar. A House companion bill mirroring Leahy’s earlier bill, introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) in April, had six Democratic co-sponsors but had not left a Judiciary subcommittee. [19]

The bill would also extend the statute of limitations on bribery, honest services fraud, and extortion from five to six years. It would clarify ambiguities in the law, opened by recent court decisions, by clarifying what constitutes an illegal gratuity and broadening what defines an “official act.” One of the bill items broadens an official act to counter a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2007. The item expands official actions to include any conduct within the range of the official duty of a public official.[20]

Another bill provision would reverse a 1999 Supreme Court decision that restricted the “illegal gratuities” statute when prosecutors were made to have to prove a “specific connection” between a gratuity and an official act. This elevated the prosecution standard to that of bribery, though penalties were significantly weaker. Under this bill prosecutors would not need to show an airtight link between the gratuity and an official act, as long as they could show it was given “for or because of” the official’s position and in violation of gift limits under ethics rules. [21]

Past committee membership

110th Congress (2007-2008)

Members of the
Senate Committee on the Judiciary,
110th Congress
Democrats: Republicans:


Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law

Members of the
Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law,
110th Congress
Democrats: Republicans:

109th Congress (2005-2006)

Members of the
Senate Committee on the Judiciary,
109th Congress
Democrats: Republicans:

Past legislative activity

109th Congress

Bush Administration wiretapping program

On September 7, Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) called off a committee vote on a bill authorizing President Bush’s wiretapping program. Following the announcement, Specter blamed “obstructionism” for the cancellation. His comments were directed at Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who spoke against the bill for about a quarter of the panel's two-hour meeting and offered four amendments (which would have effectively nullified the purpose of the bill). Following the announcement, Feingold defended his actions, stating, “The president has basically said: I'll agree to let a court decide if I'm breaking the law if you pass a law first that says I'm not breaking the law…That won't help re-establish a healthy respect for separation of powers. It will only make matters worse.” [14]

On September 13, the committee passed the bill 10-8, strictly on party lines. [15]

Articles and Resources

Wikipedia also has an article on Senate Committee on the Judiciary. This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the GFDL.


  1. Dan Eggen and Paul Kane, "Gonzales, Senators Spar on Credibility," Washington Post, July 25, 2007.
  2. Elana Schor, "Sens. say Gonzales lied," The Hill, July 25, 2007.
  3. Spencer Ackerman. "Gonzales Running out of Perjury Options," TPM Muckraker. July 26, 2007.
  4. Spencer Ackerman. "Gonzales Running out of Perjury Options," TPM Muckraker. July 26, 2007.
  5. Spencer Ackerman. "Gonzales Running out of Perjury Options," TPM Muckraker. July 26, 2007.
  6. "Democrats Call for Special Counsel to Probe Gonzales; Leahy Subpoenas Rove, Jennings," Roll Call. July 27, 2007.
  7. "Democrats Call for Special Counsel to Probe Gonzales; Leahy Subpoenas Rove, Jennings," Roll Call. July 27, 2007.
  8. Elana Schor and Susan Crabtree. "Specter: Administration has 18 hours to clarify Gonzales testimony on wiretapping," The Hill. July 30, 2007.
  9. Elana Schor and Susan Crabtree. "Specter: Administration has 18 hours to clarify Gonzales testimony on wiretapping," The Hill. July 30, 2007.
  10. Susan Crabtree. "Gonzales has until Friday to explain testimony," The Hill. August 2, 2007.
  11. Susan Crabtree. "Gonzales has until Friday to explain testimony," The Hill. August 2, 2007.
  12. Susan Crabtree. "Gonzales has until Friday to explain testimony," The Hill. August 2, 2007.
  13. Susan Crabtree. "Gonzales has until Friday to explain testimony," The Hill. August 2, 2007.
  14. Kara Oppenheim. "Leahy sets final deadline for wiretapping docs," The Hill. August 8, 2007.
  15. Kara Oppenheim. "Leahy sets final deadline for wiretapping docs," The Hill. August 8, 2007.
  16. Elana Schor, "White House lets Leahy’s deadline pass," The Hill, August 20, 2007.
  17. Elana Schor, "White House lets Leahy’s deadline pass," The Hill, August 20, 2007.
  18. Jonathan Weisman, “Bill Tackles Public Corruption,” The Hill, October 25, 2007.
  19. Jonathan Weisman, “Bill Tackles Public Corruption,” The Hill, October 25, 2007.
  20. Jonathan Weisman, “Bill Tackles Public Corruption,” The Hill, October 25, 2007.
  21. Jonathan Weisman, “Bill Tackles Public Corruption,” The Hill, October 25, 2007.

External articles

External resources

Contact information

Committee Web site

  • Majority staff office - (202) 224-5225
  • Minority staff office - (202) 224-7703