An increasing number of U.S. senators are setting up committees in their home states to evaluate potential federal judges, yet little is known about how those panels operate, according to a new report.
The report, released by two nonprofit groups, is an attempt at filling the vacuum of information. It compiles reasons why senators appoint the committees, looks at variations among the committees nationwide, and lays out some of the options senators have in setting up the screening process.
There were at least 21 screening committees as of last month — more than double the nine committees that existed in 2008.
“The reasons for the upsurge are unclear,” the report says, noting that the Obama administration has not called publicly for their use. Among the possible reasons: an August 2008 American Bar Association resolution urging senators to appoint bipartisan committees, and the controversy over U.S. attorney hiring and firing in 2006 and 2007. (Some of the committees also evaluate U.S. attorney nominees.)
The committees vary, the report says, in the number of members, leadership, demographics, tasks, operations, and jurisdiction. For example, Ohio, with one Democratic and one Republican senator, has a bipartisan screening process, while Texas’ two Republicans senators and the state’s Democratic House members have not always worked in unison.
Click here (PDF) for a copy of the report. Its two main authors are Russell Wheeler, president of the non-profit think-tank the Governance Institute and a Brookings Institution visiting fellow, and Rebecca Kourlis, executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver.