Senate Republicans have just announced committee assignments for this new Congress, and there’s excellent news for the Judiciary Committee: Newly elected senator Mike Lee of Utah—a Tea Party favorite—will join the committee as one of its eight Republicans.
Lee, a former law clerk to Justice Alito (and son of former Solicitor General Rex Lee), will bring impressive legal acumen and strong conservative principles to his new role. Plus, he’s only 39, so he may be in a position to help shape the committee for decades.
A huge obstacle to Lee’s joining the committee was posed by a Republican Conference rule that bars two Republicans from the same state from serving on the same committee. That rule exists for understandable reasons—among other things, there’s a lot of potential for conflict and infighting if two senators from the same state are on the same committee. Waivers of the rule are quite rare.
My former boss Senator Hatch—also of Utah and a longtime member of the committee— and Republican leader Mitch McConnell deserve great credit for securing the waiver of the rule. I’m reliably informed that Hatch not only gave his own consent to waiver of the rule but that he also worked hard to persuade his fellow Republicans to do likewise. McConnell also made the matter a real priority. Heartiest thanks to both Hatch and McConnell.
The eight Republicans on the committee will be (in the order in which the announcement lists them) Sessions, Hatch, Grassley, Kyl, Graham, Cornyn, Lee, and Coburn. Grassley will be the ranking member.
I haven’t seen an announcement yet on the Democratic side, but I believe that there will be ten Democrats on the committee: Leahy (chairman), Kohl, Feinstein, Schumer, Durbin, Whitehouse, Klobuchar, Franken, Coons, and someone yet to be designated publicly. (Feingold and Specter are no longer in the Senate, and I’m told that Cardin has chosen to drop off the committee.)