The committee that reviews President Barack Obama's judicial and Justice Department nominees and that is considering patent-law changes this year has at least two new members.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will take a seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, a spokesman for Blumenthal confirmed today. A first-year senator, Blumenthal was most recently the attorney general of Connecticut, and he served as the U.S. attorney for Connecticut in the late 1970s.
Blumenthal will join the committee as another Democrat departs it. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said today that he’s leaving the committee to join another, which he didn’t name. At a committee meeting today, he thanked his chief counsel, Bill Van Horne, and pledged to stay involved in judiciary matters.
“We’re going to find ways that we can continue to work with the committee on issues as we move forward,” Cardin said.
On the Republican side, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) will join the committee, according to a news release from Senate Republican leaders. A freshman senator and former Howrey partner, he has been rumored as a potential committee member since before his election because of his vocal opposition to past Supreme Court decisions expanding congressional power.
The selection of Lee is drawing scrutiny from liberals, who note his opposition to many New Deal and Progressive-era initiatives including federal rules about child labor. “Placing Mike Lee in charge of overseeing the Constitution is a bit like putting Dick Cheney in charge of hunting and gun safety,” Ian Millhiser wrote on the Think Progress blog.
Curt Levey, executive director of the conservative Committee for Justice, welcomed Lee. “His experience as both a constitutional lawyer and clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito gives him the ideal background for the job,” Levey wrote in an e-mail. “And Lee’s keen understanding of the Constitution’s role in limiting federal power grabs and runaway spending makes him the perfect fit for the times.”
Lee told The Salt Lake Tribune that he is excited about joining the committee. "I’ve got a real intense interest with the federal courts,” he said.
His addition means the committee will have a ratio of 10 Democrats to eight Republicans, a tighter margin than the 12-7 ratio that existed after then-Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) switched to the Democratic Party in 2009.
Also today, the committee revealed which nominees it will hear from in its first confirmation hearing of the year. Among them is Caitlin Halligan, picked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Updated at 4:55 p.m. with additional reporting.