Bench Memos

Election 2010 and the Senate Judiciary Committee

What consequences might tomorrow’s election have for the Senate Judiciary Committee?

1. The current composition of the committee is 12 Democrats versus 7 Republicans—even more lopsided than the current 59-to-41 membership of the Senate as a whole. Republican gains in the Senate ought to lead to a higher proportion of Republicans on committee (in part by the creation of new Republican positions, and perhaps in part by the elimination of Democratic ones).

2. If Republicans win control of the Senate, it’s widely thought that Senator Sessions would become chairman of the committee. That position would give him tremendous influence over the fate of President Obama’s judicial nominees.

If Republicans remain in the minority, it’s widely thought that Senator Grassley would succeed Sessions as the ranking member (senior Republican) on the committee. (Term limits adopted by the Republican caucus for the various committees would trigger a sort of musical chairs among Republican ranking members.)

3.  Of the 19 current members of the committee, seven—five Democrats and two Republicans—have their terms expire at the end of this session. 

Of the five Democrats, two aren’t on the ballot tomorrow: Ted Kaufman of Delaware, Joe Biden’s fill-in, isn’t running to complete Biden’s full term; and Arlen Specter lost the Democratic primary race in Pennsylvania.  Of the three other Democrats, Pat Leahy (Vermont) and Chuck Schumer (New York) are regarded as shoo-ins, but Russ Feingold (Wisconsin) is now widely expected to lose his re-election bid.  

Both of the Republicans who are up—Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Tom Coburn (Oklahoma)—are regarded as sure bets for re-election.

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