Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate

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The Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate, commonly known as the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a standing committee of the United States Senate. It considers matters related to the federal judiciary and the administration of justice in the United States. The committee has the responsibility to consider and confirm or deny presidential nominations to the federal justice system, including justices, judges, attorneys general and other top Justice Department officials.

The committee was created in 1816.[1]


For current members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, see Ballotpedia's United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary page.


Like all Senate committees, the chairperson of the Judiciary Committee is a member of the party with majority control of the Senate.


Beginning of the committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee was created in the early 1800's in response to growing complexities in American government. The Senate established the body's original standing committees, including the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a resolution adopted on December 10, 1816. The Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives had been established three years prior. The first chairman of the Committee was Senator Dudley Chase of Vermont, who was appointed and served during the Second Session of the 14th Congress.[1]

Expansion of responsibilities

Beginning with the 16th Congress (1819–1821), the committee extended its jurisdiction to the admission of new States to the Union as issues involving slavery and the Missouri Compromise of 1820 were hotly debated. The committee had jurisdiction over patents, trademarks, and copyright policy before the US Senate created the Committee on Patents in 1837. After the Civil War, the Committee's jurisdiction expanded to include restoration of former Confederate States to the Union.[1]

Immigration and naturalization measures were considered by the committee until 1889 when the Senate Committee on Immigration was established. Also in 1889, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings that created the Sherman Antitrust Act, landmark legislation approved by Congress to limit monopolies.[1]

The responsibilities of the Senate Judiciary Committee have changed over time. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 demonstrated the changing needs of the committee, by consolidating and reducing the number of standing committees in both houses of Congress. With passage of the law, the committee's responsibilities expanded as they were again granted the power to apportion representatives, oversee patents, trademarks, and copyright policy; along with immigration and naturalization. The 1946 law also removed from the Committee's jurisdiction proposals affecting executive branch reorganization, convict labor, and the American National Red Cross.[1]

The Committee Reform Amendments of 1977 eliminated the Judiciary Committee's jurisdiction over meetings of Congress, attendance of members, and their acceptance of incompatible offices. Pursuant to the 1977 reform bill, the Judiciary Committee now shares jurisdiction over government information with the Government Affairs Committee.[1]

Role in national history

The Senate Judiciary Committee has played a strong role in hearing legislation that has shaped the history of the United States.[1]

After the Civil War, the judiciary committee first played a role in the passage of constitutional amendments. This started when the committee helped pass the reconstruction amendments including the Thirteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment and Fifteenth Amendment.[1]

Over time, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard other amendments including the Eighteenth Amendment and Twenty-First Amendment, which enacted and then repealed Prohibition. The committee also worked on the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, the Twenty-Second Amendment, which created presidential term limits, and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which lowered the voting age to eighteen.[1]

Civil rights era

The Senate Judiciary Committee played a role during the modern-day civil rights movement. When President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon pressed Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957, former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman James Eastland of Mississippi failed to schedule a hearing on civil rights legislation. This resulted in Senate leadership bypassing the Judiciary Committee and scheduling a debate of the bill on the Senate floor after it was passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 despite intense opposition on the floor and in the judiciary committee.

Duties of the committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee differs from the House Judiciary Committee as the committee is charged with holding hearings to conduct oversight of units of government, consider legislative proposals that would impact the American legal system, conduct hearings on judicial and executive nominations, and to consider other pending business in the interest of the committee.[2]

Nomination hearings

The committee is granted by power by the United States Constitution to hold nomination hearings for all nominees for Article III judgeships and the Supreme Court of the United States. The committee is also given the same power for positions in the United States Department of Justice, such as Attorney General of the United States, Assistant Attorney Generals, United States Attorneys across the nation, and United States Marshals. The committee also has power to consider nominations outside of the Department of Justice including the Department of Homeland Security, Commerce Department, and legal advisors to various governmental departments if warranted. Under the provisions of the Constitution, the Senate is given the right to advise and consent on all presidential nominations.[3]

When an person is nominated by the President, consideration for the given nominee must be referred to the appropriate committee. Most presidential nominees, including judicial nominations, are required to complete a committee questionnaire. In the questionnaire, nominees are asked to list previous professional experiences, educational information, disclose potential conflicts of interest and personal finances. Judicial nominees are also required to complete an additional evaluation from the American Bar Association which is required before the committee can schedule a hearing. During the hearing, all nominees present information under oath. During the questioning, all senators on the committee may question the nominee on any appropriate subject. After the hearing, nominations are listed for committee consideration during executive business meetings, where the committee has the authority to advance the nominee to a full Senate vote. At any time after the hearing, committee members can send correspondence to any nominee for additional questioning.[2]


The Senate Judiciary Committee is subdivided into seven subcommittees, each involving a general area of law.

Administrative Oversight and the Courts

Considered to be one of the most powerful subcommittees, this subcommittee has broad jurisdiction. Its jurisdiction includes federal court administration and management, judicial rules and procedures, the creation of new courts and judgeships, bankruptcy courts and the bankruptcy code, administrative practices and procedures, legal reform and liability issues, oversight of grant programs at the Justice Department, investigations of government waste and fraud, private relief bills other than immigration along with oversight of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.[4]

Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights

This subcommittee has responsibilities overseeing federal antitrust law and competition policy, including the Sherman, Clayton and Federal Trade Commission Acts, which govern American antitrust law. This subcommittee also has jurisdiction over antitrust enforcement and competition policy at the Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission, and at other federal agencies.[5]

The Constitution

A long standing subcommittee throughout the history of the Senate Judiciary Committee deals with the United States Constitution. Jurisdiction of the subcommittee includes all constitutional amendments, enforcement and protection of constitutional rights, statutory guarantees of civil rights and civil liberties under federal law, separation of powers, enforcing checks and balances, federal-state government relations and interstate compacts.[6]

Crime and Drugs

The crime and drugs subcommittee sets direction on criminal and drug policy at the federal level. Jurisdiction of the subcommittee includes administrative oversight for key divisions at the Department of Justice. The oversight includes the criminal division of the Justice Department. Other jurisdiction includes oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Marshals Service, Community Oriented Policing Services and related law enforcement grants, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Office of the Pardon Attorney, the United States Parole Commission, The FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives relating to crime or drug policy.

This subcommittee is also charged with oversight of the Federal Sentencing Commission, issues related to youth violence, federal programs under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, criminal justice and victims' rights policy, and oversight of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Secret Service. The subcommittee has oversight on corrections, rehabilitation, reentry and other detention-related policy, and parole and prohibition policy.[7]

Human Rights and the Law

This subcommittee has jurisdiction on human rights laws and policies, the enforcement and implementation of human rights laws, federal judicial proceedings regarding human rights laws along with judicial and executive branch interpretations of human rights laws.[8]

Immigration, Refugees and Border Security

This subcommittee plays a powerful role in the direction of immigration policy in the United States. The subcommittee's jurisdiction includes enforcement and oversight of immigration, citizenship, and refugee laws. The subcommittee is also granted oversight of the immigration functions of the Department of Homeland Security including oversight of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Ombudsman Citizenship and Immigration Services. This subcommittee is also given oversight on the immigration-related functions of the Departments of Justice, State, Health and Human Services, Labor, along with the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The subcommittee is granted oversight of international migration, internally displaced persons, and refugee laws and policy along with private immigration relief bills.[9]

Terrorism and Homeland Security

A subcommittee since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this subcommittee deals with terrorism and homeland protection. Jurisdiction of the committee includes anti-terrorism enforcement and policy, as well as oversight of Department of Homeland Security functions and State Department consular operations as they relate to anti-terrorism enforcement and policy. Also, the sub-committee is granted oversight of encryption policies, export licensing, and espionage laws and their enforcement.[10]

See also

External links