Senate Judiciary Committee

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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The U.S. Senate established the Committee on the Judiciary on December 10, 1816, as one of the original 11 standing committees. It is also one of the most powerful committees in Congress; among its wide range of jurisdictions is investigation of federal judicial nominees and

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oversight of criminal justice, antitrust, and INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY legislation. Meeting each year since the Fourteenth Congress, the Judiciary Committee reviews a vast range of legal issues and advises the larger Senate on how to handle them. Just like any other congressional committee, it cannot pass laws or approve presidential nominees on its own, but its recommendations are highly regarded by the larger body.

Historically, initial issues before the Senate Judiciary Committee centered largely on the widespread western expansion and growth of the nation, with corresponding concerns about the role of the federal judiciary and JUDICIAL ADMINISTRATION. Boundary disputes between states were another early concern. The issue of SLAVERY was perhaps the most controversial, however. The committee was partially responsible for the enactment of the COMPROMISE OF 1850, which included the FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT. Also, after the Civil War, beginning in 1868, the committee shared jurisdiction to oversee federal reconstruction.

The authority to investigate nominees to the federal court system is the most powerful and controversial authority delegated to the committee. Although the U.S. Constitution grants authority to the full Senate to approve judges nominated by the president, the Senate has delegated much of this responsibility to the committee since 1868. When the president submits judicial nominations, the Senate immediately submits them to the committee for consideration. The committee votes whether to approve or disapprove a nomination of a judge, and it votes whether to submit the nomination to the full Senate for its consideration. Both votes require a majority of the members of the committee. If the Senate approves a judge, he or she receives lifetime tenure on the federal bench, barring IMPEACHMENT or retirement.

The nomination process of federal judges traditionally has caused a significant amount of controversy regarding the criteria that are used by committee members in determining whether to approve or disapprove a judicial nominee. Some commentators suggest that the nomination process should only involve considerations of ethics...

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