The Senate Judiciary Committee this morning endorsed three of President Barack Obama’s nominees for top positions at the Justice Department, and senators signaled they’re moving closer to agreement on expansive changes to the nation’s patent system.
Senators didn’t bother with roll call votes for the three nominees: Covington & Burling partner Lanny Breuer for assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division; Hogan & Hartson partner Christine Varney for assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division; and Morrison Foerster partner Tony West for assistant attorney general for the Civil Division.
Confirmation votes by the full Senate have not been scheduled.
Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) praised all three for their willingness to take significant cuts in pay to work at the Justice Department. “Every administration has to have people who are willing to come from the private sector — certainly not for the salaries that are paid in government service, but because it is important,” he said.
Only one senator, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the committee’s top Republican, expressed any reservation over the nominees. He criticized Varney for what he called “incomplete answers” to his written questions; in many of her answers (pdf), she declined to give specifics and instead promised to work with other administration officials, learn more about an issue, or “vigorously enforce” the antitrust laws.
“I want more answers from nominees. I want to know where they stand,” Specter said.
The Judiciary Committee today also made technical amendments to patent legislation that would be the first major overhaul of the patent system in decades, but senators put off a vote on the full bill until Tuesday at the earliest. Leahy had pushed for a vote today, but a bipartisan group of senators wanted more time to negotiate key provisions, including the process for determining damages in patent infringement cases. Several senators said an agreement could be imminent.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose state is rich in industries with a large stake in the legislation, blamed the high-tech industry for not demonstrating “a willingness to move from its position on damages.” She has pushed for codifying what are known as the Georgia-Pacific factors, a group of 15 factors dating to a 1970 ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Feinstein called for compromise among all interests. “I am willing to make changes. I am not wedded to codifying Georgia-Pacific,” she said.