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What is the Senate Judiciary Committee?

By Jason C. Chavis
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Senate Judiciary Committee is the legislative body that oversees the confirmation of Supreme Court justices and federal judges for the Senate in the United States. Established in 1816 under the leadership of Dudley Chase, the group is one of the oldest legislative panels in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee is considered a standing committee, which means it is a permanent assembly within the upper house of Congress. According to the rules of order in the Constitution, the Senate has the right to establish such committees. The Committee is widely considered one of the most powerful in the legislative branch and thereby coveted by many politicians.

Nineteen Senators of different political factions hold membership on the Committee. The composition is usually relegated to representatives of the Democratic and Republican Parties; however, independent Senators also occasionally serve. Power structure of the different political factions depends on the overall structure of the legislative house. Due to the power of the Judiciary Committee, the party with the majority in the Senate holds more seats than the minority.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has different duties than the United States House Committee on the Judiciary, the corresponding body in the other branch of Congress. The lower house committee primarily oversees the process of administering the laws in federal courts and agencies, impeaching federal officials and acts as a check on executive law enforcement officials. As the panel for the upper house of Congress, the Senate Judiciary Committee is responsible for determining the jurisdiction of federal law, formulating the trial process for impeached individuals and holding hearings on all Constitutional Amendments.

Widely considered the most important job of the Judiciary Committee is the confirmation of Supreme Court justices. Since justices are appointed for life and the Supreme Court is the final determination in the interpretation of laws in the United States, the nominees go through an intensive review from the members of the Committee. In modern times, this process has given way to strong partisan divides with judicial nominees often being heavily questioned on their political affiliation and stances on social issues.

There are seven different subcommittees that operate under the auspices of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Each one is headed by a chairman from the majority party and a ranking member of the minority. Full membership of each subcommittee ranges from eight to 14 Senators depending on the particular duties of the panel. The subcommittees include: Administration Oversight and the Courts; Human Rights and the Law; Immigration, Refugees and Border Security; The Constitution; Crime and Drugs; Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights; and Terrorism and Homeland Security.

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