Because the Senate Judiciary Committee has the responsibility to vet nominees for federal judgeships, both parties are normally careful to put only the most ideologically reliable members on the panel. When they don’t, as when the pro-choice Arlen Specter assumed the chair of Judiciary, it can cause a lot of heartburn. Arlen was kept in line with constant threats, but who needs that kind of hassle? I don’t think we’ll ever see an anti-choice Democrat on the committee. It’s all part of the politicization of the courts.
Because there are no moderate Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, it makes it harder for the rest of the Republicans to agree to anything. Whether we’re talking about guns or immigration, it’s unlikely that more than a couple of the Republicans who will be marking up the bills in Judiciary hearings will be voting for the legislation once it is done.
Even if we have a pretty good shot at picking up enough Republicans to overcome a filibuster, those senators might get a little frightened if the vote in the Judiciary Committee is (close to) a party-line vote. Two Republican members of the committee (Lindsey Graham and freshman Jeff Flake) are part of the Gang of Eight who are working on an immigration bill. That’s a promising start, but it’s not clear that they will be able to win over any of the other Republicans. After all, we’re talking about people like Utah’s Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, Texas’ Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and Alabama’s Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. The Ranking Member is Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who can sometimes be a reasonable man, but who has increasingly behaved like a typical asshole since the Tea Party started capping his colleagues. If Grassley is on board, the bills will be bipartisan and there will be plenty of cover for other more moderate Republicans to vote ‘yes.’ But if Grassley is a ‘no’ vote in committee, then things could get very dicey.
If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s not to trust committee chairs like Max Baucus, and that goes double for Ranking Members like Chuck Grassley.