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What Would GOP Takeover of Congress Mean for Judiciary Committees?

4 years ago
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Most polls suggest that Republican candidates will win enough seats in Tuesday's midterm election to take over the House of Representatives, if not the Senate, for the first time since 2007. If this occurs, all of the committee leadership positions will change over into GOP hands. If the House becomes Republican, for example, no longer will Rep. John Conyers, the iconic Democratic from Michigan, preside over the House Judiciary Committee. And if the GOP picks up a Senate majority, a longer shot if you believe the odds, no longer will Sen. Patrick Leahy, the bald patrician from Vermont, preside over judicial nominations before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If the GOP wins big Tuesday, the new Republican caucus will decide who is leading what committee next January. But there are clear favorites already -- the ranking members of the judiciary committees, for example. On the House side, the ranking member is Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). On the Senate side, it's Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). It would be a surprise if both of these staunchly conservative Southern politicians were not elevated to the chairmanships of their respective committees. And that would likely mean dramatic changes in the priorities and pronouncements of the bodies charged with coordinating Congress' contributions, such as they are, to the rule of law.

First, some context. If Smith becomes chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he'd be the first Republican leader there in 15 years who didn't play a leading role in the Clinton impeachment saga in 1998-1999. The late Rep. Henry Hyde from Illinois had the top post on the committee from 1995 to 2001. And Rep. James Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin led the way there for the GOP from 2001 to 2007. Sensenbrenner is still a member of the Judiciary Committee. So are Rep. Steve King (I-Iowa), who recently blasted as "lawless" a federal judge's ruling striking down the "don't ask, don't tell'' military personnel policy, and Rep. Darryl Issa (R-Calif.), who has promised investigations from the House Oversight Committee if he becomes its chairman.

Smith is a law school graduate and a career politician and one of the most strident conservatives in the House. A frequent critic of the media and the federal judiciary, he is an ardent opponent of abortion rights and a strong supporter of Arizona in its battle with the federal government over immigration enforcement. In fact, this summer he made headlines when he said that President Barack Obama was "awfully close" to violating his oath of office through his immigration policies. Issa now is on the record as saying there's "not a chance" the GOP will impeach Obama if it gains the Congress. Smith recently issued a statement of his own about impeachment -- but it focused upon the fate of the federal judge who struck down California's same-sex marriage ban.

The House Judiciary Committee does not vet federal judicial nominees, as the Senate Judiciary Committee does. But, it does have a GOP makeup, even before the anticipated gains on Nov. 2, to take a leading role in the congressional push back some suggest the Republicans will make against the White House come January. Would Smith hold hearings -- surely carried live by Fox News -- on immigration issues like changing the 14th Amendment's birthright provision? Would he hold hearings into the constitutionality of the new health care law even as the federal courts begin to digest those issues? There is, indeed, an awful lot at stake Tuesday.

If power over the Senate Judiciary Committee were to transfer to the Republicans, it would make history, and not just because it would mark the first time in forever that there's not a Kennedy or a Specter on the panel. If Sessions is chosen by his colleagues, I believe he will be the first person ever to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee after having been rejected for judgeship by the committee. Sessions has come a long way since he failed in 1986. And as chairman he would be able both to better block the pace of judicial appointments by the Obama administration -- leading to even longer waits for judges and trials in our federal courts -- and to greatly impact the narrative should the White House be given the opportunity in the next two years to select yet another Supreme Court candidate.

Thanks to the Sotomayor and Kagan confirmation hearings, we know precisely where Sessions stands on the issues. He blistered Justice Kagan on her views about military recruitment. He blistered Justice Sotomayor on, of all things, affirmative action. And he's steadfastly refused to help confirm the White House's judicial picks. The Senate Judiciary, too, can hold hearings. Here is a list from this past session, making clear that GOP leaders, if they so choose, would also be able to use this committee to score political points with 2012 voters. The fact that Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) are by far the least conservative members of the committee's GOP caucus strongly suggests that Senate Judiciary wouldn't be, as it often is, more moderate than its House counterpart.

Aside from the two Supreme Court spectacles, and with Democrats in control of both Congress and the White House, neither judiciary committee made a huge dent in public consciousness the past two years. If the polls are correct -- and hey, sometimes they are -- this will surely change when the Congress reconvenes in 2011. As the midterms approach, there are some huge legal balls up in the air -- same-sex marriage, health care, immigration reform. If Republicans gain control of Congress, look for some or all of them to land in the laps of Sessions or Smith -- and thus into your living room or onto your computer screen as well.

Video: You Said It
Ahead of the midterm elections, we asked voters across the country about what they expect to happen if Republicans win control of Congress. Click the play button below to watch their responses:

Filed Under: 2010 Elections, Law, Analysis

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The dems have run our Country into the ground. Do you realize the dems have had control of our Government for three years and the two years that Obama has been in office has been nothing but blame Bush for everything and anything. In fact I think that is all Obama can do, since I haven't seen him really do anything else in office. The fact of the matter is that in two years nothing at all has been done to help the American people. Let's put aside the dem and republican issues; just as an American ask yourself what actually has Obama or his administration done to help our economy. Here are some facts on what the long-term effects of what Obama has done will have on our Country. These are all documented facts: First lets start with thie health care reform that he forced through. Taxpayers earning less than $200,000 a year will pay roughly $3.9 billion more in taxes in 2019 alone. The new law raises $15.2 billion over 10 years by limiting the medical expense deduction, a provision widely used by taxpayers who either have a serious illness or are older. Taxpayers can currently deduct medical expenses in excess of 7.5 % of their adjusted gross income. Starting in 2013, most taxpayers will only be able to deduct expenses greater than 10 percent of AGI. Older taxpayers are hit by this threshold increase in 2017. Once the law is fully implemented in 2019, the JCT estimates the deduction limitation will affect 14.8 million taxpayers — 14.7 million of them will earn less than $200,000 a year. -Not only will Obamacare create the BIGGEST tax increase in U.S history but it may also cost you your retirement- Lets move on to the Wall Street Reform Bill: This bill is a massive intrusion of the federal government into the lives of every American. It is the financial services equivalent of Obamacare. It hurts Main Street, costs jobs, guarantees that the taxpayers remain on the hook for endless bailouts, and does nothing to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government mortgage companies that caused the meltdown by giving high-risk loans to people who couldn’t afford them. Rather than create jobs, the Democrats expanded government, and now the American people are stuck with another bill for nearly $1 trillion. This is not a socialist country. Government does not belong in the banking industry, the auto industry, education etc. etc. Obama and his administration have done nothing but run our Country into the ground. On to the stimulus package he created will help in the short term, but result in so much government debt that within a few years they would crowd out private investment; actually leading to a lower Gross Domestic Product over the next 10 years than if the government had done nothing. On to Obama and the military: (this is a quote published 10/12/10) President Obamas decision to increase military spending this year and in the future will result in the greatest administrative military spending since World War II. This decision is being made in spite of continued evidence of extreme waste, fraud, abuse, and corporate welfare in the military budget. At the same time, spending on -non-security- domestic programs such as education, nutrition, energy, and transportation will be frozen, resulting in inflationary cuts to essential services for the US public over the upcoming years. On to the horrific memory that is etched upon all of our minds: 9/11 - The current President of our Country stated -We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.- I guess his defense against a terrorist attack is to abosrb it!! Do you really want to Absorb another attack on our Country? In total 3,497 people died in the attacks on 11 September 2001. As Obama said -it's time for a change – and I think the dems are in for a rude awakening today!!! It's about time we took back our Country and make it great again!!!

November 02 2010 at 12:59 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply

There is a saying that I like: "Be careful what you wish for, you might get what you want". With politics I like to change it to: "Be careful who you vote for, you might not get what you expect".

November 02 2010 at 12:26 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Wayne's comment

Wayne, that's exactly what happened here in Florida when we elected Charlie Crist. Crist is in the dictionary under RINO.

November 02 2010 at 1:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I posted this quote earlier: "In the main, people who tend to be very corporate, very hierarchical, very obedient, tend to be conservative." -Paul Begala The replies I get are from people who seem to wish to deny it by affirming everything in it and then adding that they feel good about themselves. Think about your answers, campers.

November 02 2010 at 12:06 PM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply

Obama misread the public sentiment by wasting precious resources on health care rather than jobs. Even though he inherited this mess from Bush, Obama now owns it. Another problem with Obama is that he turned out to be a much better campaigner than a politician. That is a huge dissapointment for Democrats

November 02 2010 at 11:56 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

A Republican landslide leading to control of the Congress and transitioning into an election of a Republican President in 2012 means a continuing partisan right wing court and the real dictatorship of American fascism that we had a taste of during the eight year virtual dictatorship led by the Bush-Cheney criminal gang! To those who doubt this: You have forgotten that it wasn't the "brown shirts" that aided and abetted Adolph Hitler's stay in was the corporate hierchy just like we see daily strangling the American democracy! It is evident that a word to the wise is not sufficient to prevent this! Roland (Orlando) C. Woodaka!

November 02 2010 at 11:37 AM Report abuse -14 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Orlando's comment

Orlando needs to look up the definition of fascism. It means that people still own their property but the government controls every aspect of what you can and cannot do with that property. Government control via excessive and extreme regulations. I don't know how you can associate fascism with Bush or conservatives.

November 02 2010 at 12:51 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply


November 02 2010 at 3:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Fact: My Party is better than your Party, your Party is better than my Party. Fact: Both Parties have been B.s.-ing "we the people" for many many Decades. Hopefully the Tea party activity has woken-up both Parties. Both parties have been ignoring America's debt, while developing newer and newer programs that burn-up money. We the people must face the facts and begin paying your Debts. Soon, the landlord will be kicking us out ( of N.America ) or hang a new sign(Flag) on the Property. Shall we sing ? This land was our land,This land was your land,from Cali.....

November 02 2010 at 11:32 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

go conservatives!! take back our country. this country was founded on principles of hard work and personal responsibility. Govt get out of our lives and leave us alone!

November 02 2010 at 11:29 AM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to dowdpt22's comment

It is interesting that we have given labels to democrats as liberal and republicans as conservative. I for one am a strong supporter of individual and group social rights but I fight with fervor as a fiscal conservative. I believe that rabid spending hurts the lower income persons more than helps. As the old saying goes, "feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Inflation is the biggest enemy of the poor person. With virutally no growth in the GNP, inflation has remained relatively low. This is a good thing for poor people as it has allowed the Obama administration to lend trillions of dollars in support. However, it is a bad thing for the nation as a whole as it has kept unemployment at all time highs. We need a president who will focus on educating all people and the creation of a healthy economy that promotes job creation. What value is it to educate when we cannot employ those we educate. In the first two years of his administration he has failed terribly at creating jobs. So we educate and flood the market with more qualified but unemployed people. We need more of a balance with greater emphasis in strengthening the economy. President Obama has one more year to make things better, with the fourth year, a year of campaigning. Stop the blaiming George Bush for the problems he created and start moving this country forward. We didn't elect you, Mr. President, to make excuses. We elected you to make positive change. So far we haven't seen much of that and we will hold you accountable come the next election. And to all the editorial pundits, yes there are major disagreements on social issues. Those will always exist as long as the country is divided. Mr. Cohen writes about all those social changes that will possibly occur with a change in government. He obviously would prefer the status quo. Well, I for one, would support some, if not many, of those same social changes, however, it does little good cramming those issues down the throats of half the population. We need more balance in the government and more compromise to make things progressively better. I for one support a split congress and would like to see the election of far more moderates. Keeping things the way they are will result in a swing of the pendulum too far in the other direction. Don't be a lemming and follow straight party politics. Vote for change but remember that meaningful change takes time. We need to work on changing peoples minds not just their vote.

November 02 2010 at 11:27 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to anthdif's comment
Greg J.

I think that it takes the same, if not more time to correct the BS mess Bush put us in, with the help of those who kept him in office, so just be patient, and lay in the bed you'll made for yourself in the past 10 years. It will get better.

November 02 2010 at 12:03 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Greg J, anyone who thinks the problems our economy is facing today was created in just the past 8 years is naive. This economic downturn was created by Congress and not presidents. It was created by errors made by Congress and the Federal Reserve over a period of 30 years. Anyone who says it was the past 8 years is either too young to understand or ,if older, they haven't paid attention to ignorant legislation and unintended consequences.

November 02 2010 at 12:59 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

My bigger concern is that the courts do not try and legislate from the bench as they are clearly not to make law in the judicial branch... Regardless of the outcome of the mid-term elections, the nation will suffer – not from the election results, but from the lame-duck session of Congress that follows. The greater the Republican victory in the elections, the greater the damage the Democrats will do during the lame-duck session. And there is much damage to be done. Obama and the Democrats have already begun to lay blame for the largest tax increase in history should the current tax rates be allowed to expire Jan. 1. They have refused to bring a bill to the floor that will extend the current tax rate because the Republicans, and at least 31 Democrats, have insisted that rate be extended for all taxpayers. Obama, and the Democratic leadership appear to be ready to let the tax rate increase dramatically for all taxpayers, in order to increase the tax rate for the "rich." Economists across the political spectrum agree that the worst possible response to a depressed economy is to increase taxes. In a lame-duck session, Republicans cannot advance a bill that the majority doesn't want advanced. The Democrats can, however, advance any bill they wish – unless a few Democrats in the Senate can be convinced to join a filibuster to block final passage of a bill. If Democrats and a complicit media can lay the blame on Republicans for letting the current tax rate expire, they will do it, hiding behind the press of other important legislation they want to push through the lame-duck session, while they still have the power to do so. Among the many measures the Democrats want to push through Congress is the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), which will essentially bring the agriculture industry under the control of the federal government. From Day 1 of this administration, the goal has been to "transform the United States of America" into a socialist-like system in which formerly free people must get government's permission to exercise their liberty or pursue their happiness. Another measure that makes Democrats drool is the Clean Water Restoration Act (S. 787). This bill would give to the federal government jurisdiction over every drop of water in, on and under the United States. Moreover, this bill would give to the federal government jurisdiction over any activity by any person that "may affect the waters of the United States." Simply put, this bill would give the federal government the power to stop any person from doing anything, anywhere that water may be. These two bills would effectively control all the people who live outside cities. Sen. Chris Dodd's Livable Communities Act (S. 1619) would control the people who live in towns and cities. This bill will write into U.S. law the so-called "smart-growth" provisions of Agenda 21, the U.N.'s vision of planned communities popularly called "sustainable development." Sustainable development gives the government the authority to tell people where they may – or may not – construct a home or business, what materials may be used in the structure, and what plants and vegetation may be planted. By drawing lines on a map, government may strip private property of all value by simply declaring it to be a "conservation zone" where no development is allowed. Conversely, the same government can designate an Urban Boundary Zone, inside of which property values skyrocket – because that's the only area where development can occur. (Column continues below) The integrity of the people who draw the lines on the map is always above the temptation to accept gratuities for making sure that the lines on the map include the property of the people offering the gratuity. Ha! This Obama-Pelosi-Reid administration is convinced that they know best how everyone should live, and they are hell-bent on giving government the power to dictate how everyone should live. The lame-duck session could be their last chance to force their brand of progressive-socialist-Marxist government on the nation. Of course, a Republican sweep could undo the damage done by this administration to date, beginning with Obamacare. A Republican sweep could reinstate the current tax rate if it is allowed to expire, repeal Obama's health care monstrosity, reverse whatever mischief the Democrats are able to do in their last days in Washington and, under the watchful eye of the tea parties, begin to return the nation to the Constitution and the principles of freedom our founders wrote into it. Each vote cast in this midterm election will be either a vote for freedom and free markets, or a vote for more government control over the lives of every American. Vote your conviction – but vote. __._,_.___

November 02 2010 at 11:20 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

I keep hearing the words "tax cuts for the rich". First of all... the rich pay more taxes and at least the same, if not a higher, percentage of their earnings... even under the Bush "tax cuts"... it is their money... they earned it... not Uncle Sam... who employs people in America? Do those who make less than $250,000 a year employ a lot of people? So... who does? I'll tell you... those with the so called "tax cuts". When they start up a company that reports an annual loss for a write off... do you think they run it themselves? No... they hire employees. If you keep voting Democrat, you'll see how low this country can really go.

November 02 2010 at 11:18 AM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
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