When Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow for a much anticipated hearing on the Justice Department's performance, one key figure won't be in attendance: the committee's chairman.
A spokesman for Sen. Patrick Leahy said the Vermont Democrat is planning to skip the hearing in order to attend the funeral of a longtime family friend. The hearing will be chaired instead by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.).
The hearing, which was originally scheduled for March 23, had been shaping up into a showdown between Holder and Senate Republicans, who had showered criticism on the attorney general for his handling of national security issues, such as his abandoned plan to try terrorism suspects in lower Manhattan, and the Justice Department’s decision to hire lawyers who previously advocated Guantanamo Bay detainees.
"I think this is a defining moment for him," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the committee, told The National Law Journal at the time. "He's got to re-establish himself as an attorney general whom the American people can have confidence in," Sessions added. "It's not going to be easy, because he's made some big errors."
But then the hearing was abruptly postponed in order to let Senate Democrats attend the White House signing ceremony for the recently passed health care reform bill. And last week the Judiciary Committee picked up a new agenda-topping item: this summer’s expected confirmation hearings for a replacement for the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.