Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has eliminated a subcommittee focused on human rights, citing the change in presidential administrations and the transition to a new Congress.
The announcement came at a brief organizational meeting today where Leahy also announced changes in subcommittee chairmanships and a possible committee vote in two weeks for Deputy Attorney General nominee David Ogden.
Under Leahy’s chairmanship, the Judiciary Committee created the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law two year ago after Democrats won back control of the Senate. The subcommittee held at least nine hearings on issues including human trafficking, genocide, and the intersection of human rights and environmental policies.
The Obama administration is expected to take a different tack than the Bush administration did on some of those issues, and Leahy said the subcommittee’s elimination would not mean a lack of commitment to them. “We’re going to hold hearings before the full committee,” he said.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who had been the ranking GOP member of the subcommittee, said he was “extraordinarily disappointed” by its elimination. “I fear some of the things we could do on that subcommittee will not be accomplished,” he said.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) led the human rights subcommittee. He is taking over leadership of the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs from former senator and Vice President Joe Biden.
Two other Judiciary Committee members are getting their first subcommittee gavels, with possible consequences for oversight of the federal judiciary and anti-terrorism efforts. Leahy announced that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is the new chairman of the Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts and that Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is the new chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security.
Cardin and Whitehouse are first-term senators who joined the Judiciary Committee after their elections in 2006. Neither chaired a judiciary subcommittee in the last Congress.
Whitehouse succeeds Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who takes over the gavel on the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) led that subcommittee but has left Judiciary to focus on healthcare legislation. The Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts oversees court administration, including the creation of new courts and judgeships, and grant programs within the Department of Justice, among other issues.
Cardin succeeds Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who already chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and an appropriations subcommittee and by Senate rules cannot hold another subcommittee gavel. The terrorism subcommittee has jurisdiction over anti-terrorism enforcement, including some functions of the Homeland Security Department and the State Department.
Democrats will have a two-seat majority on each subcommittee.