Why do I constantly write about committee seats and ranking members and chairpeople and who controls them? Because the committees are where laws are made, judges are vetted, and oversight and investigations are held. All the work of the Congress goes in committees or subcommittees and they are poorly understood. Even I consider myself uninformed about how they function and which bills derive from which committees.
There is probably no more important committee than the Senate Judiciary. Right now it is very interesting to look at the make-up of that committee, which sent both John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the floor for a confirming vote. Even though its chairman, Arlen Specter, is pro-choice he didn’t care that Roberts and Alito are not. Here are the rest of the Republicans on Judiciary, ranked by seniority.
Orrin Hatch- Utah
Charles Grassley- Iowa
Jon Kyl- Arizona
Mike DeWine- Ohio
Jeff Sessions- Alabama
Lindsey Graham- South Carolina
John Cornyn- Texas
Sam Brownback- Kansas
Tom Coburn- Oklahoma
The chairman is pro-choice and Jewish, but the rest of the Republicans are white, male, and Christian. Well, Hatch is a Mormon. But you don’t see Olympia Snowe or Gail Collins or even Elizabeth Dole or Kay Bailey Hutchison. There is a good reason for that. The Republican base is rabidly anti-choice and they want anti-choice judges confirmed. Thus, they keep the committee solidly, rabidly anti-choice and Specter on a short leash. The Dems are a mirror image.
Patrick Leahy- Ranking Member, Vermont
Edward Kennedy- Massachusetts
Joseph Biden- Delaware
Herbert Kohl- Wisconsin
Diane Feinstein- California
Russ Feingold- Wisconsin
Chuck Schumer- New York
Richard Durbin- Illinios
All of them are solidly pro-choice. None of them come from states that will punish them for blocking anti-choice judges. It’s no accident. And that is why the Dems will never put Harold Ford or Bob Casey on the Judiciary committee.
There are 18 members of the committee and the Dems will have 10 votes if they take the Senate. I would strongly urge the Dems to fill those two spots with women. Maybe the newly elected Amy Klobuchar and Claire McCaskill would like to join Diane Feinstein in the boy’s club. Or maybe Hillary Clinton would like the job. Regardless, as long as the Dems hold the majority on this committee, no judge can get to the floor for a vote without at least two Democrats approving of them. Actually, if one Democrat defects and the vote is 9-9 it will be up to Leahy. He can send the judge to the floor without a recommendation if he wants to. That’s what Dick Lugar did with John Bolton when Voinovich balked at voting him out of the Foreign Relations committee. Bolton was filibustered and then recess appointed. You can’t recess appoint a judge.
In any case, if you are worried that electing pro-life Democrats will do nothing to protect women’s rights, you can stop worrying. When it comes to women’s rights, nothing is more important than control of the Judiciary Committee. And if Ford and Casey win, they will vote for another pro-lifer, Harry Reid. And then Reid will make sure no pro-lifers get anywhere near the Judiciary Committee.
If we win the Senate and Bush gets to appoint another Supreme Court judge, he will have to select someone that Pat Leahy approves of. He will have to select someone that at least two Democrats can support. And all of his judges for lower courts will face the same problem.
On another topic, we will probably find numerous ways to be disappointed in a Democratic House, but one thing we can rejoice about is that Nancy Pelosi is going to screw Jane Harman out of her seniority and not allow her to take the chair of the intelligence committee. Why?
Ms. Harman, a moderate from Southern California, has been one of the party’s most outspoken voices on national security matters since the Sept. 11 attacks. But she has also drawn sharp criticism from more liberal Democrats, including Ms. Pelosi, who have privately said that she has not sufficiently used her position to attack the Bush administration for its prewar intelligence failures on Iraq and for its use of secret programs like the domestic eavesdropping carried out without warrants by the National Security Agency.
Ms. Harman is one of few people former CIA Director and neo-conservative James Woolsey has given money to (Lieberman is another). She is under investigation for enlisting AIPAC to lobby Pelosi to let her have her chair. Pelosi is apparently infuriated with this approach and is considering either Alcee L. Hastings of Florida or Silvestre Reyes of Texas for the position.
Ultimately, Pelosi will choose the chairs. She will grant almost all the chairs to the people that currently are ranking members. She apparently has a big grudge against John Dingell of Michigan and she could screw him out of the Energy and Commerce chair. But I see almost zero prospect that she will mess with John Conyers or Henry Waxman. And those are the two members that will be most responsible for investigating the administration.