Established in 1816 as one of the original standing committees in the United States Senate, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary is one of the most influential committees in Congress. Its broad legislative jurisdiction has assured its primary role as a forum for the public discussion of social and constitutional issues. The Committee is also responsible for oversight of key activities of the executive branch, and is responsible for the initial stages of the confirmation process of all judicial nominations for the federal judiciary.
1816 Senate Resolution establishing the Standing Committees of the Senate.
Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives and Records Administration.
The delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 did not provide for congressional committees when they drafted the Constitution of the United States. Nevertheless, a select committee of eight Senators, often suggested to be the precursor to the present-day Judiciary Committee, was appointed one day after the Senate first convened in 1789. The select committee was tasked with drafting what would become the Judiciary Act of 1789. This landmark Act established the present three-tiered hierarchy of the federal judiciary, and the Office of the Attorney General.
Temporary committees commonly convened in the House and Senate during the early years of Congress. The small size of Congress made it unnecessary to create permanent committees. In the Senate, ad hoc committees were comprised of three to five members depending on the issues assigned. These committees met as needed to discuss issues at their desks in the Senate chamber.
The rapid growth of the nation after the turn of the 19th century and the increase in the number of members of Congress resulted in greater complexity in the federal lawmaking process. Elected officials in both the Senate and House recognized that the legislative business of the rapidly expanding country could no longer be addressed within the structure of select committees. In a resolution adopted on December 10, 1816, the Senate established the body's original standing committees, including the Committee on the Judiciary. The House Judiciary committee had been established three years earlier.
Early History and Jurisdiction Evolution
John J. Crittenden, Second Chairman, 15th Congress.
Library of Congress.
Senator Dudley Chase of Vermont was appointed as the first chairman of the Committee, and served during the Second Session of the 14th Congress. The initial responsibility of the Committee focused on measures that remain under the present-day Committee's jurisdiction – the courts, law enforcement, and judicial administration. Among the first issues addressed by Chairman Chase and the Judiciary panel were those of judicial nominations, judicial salaries, the creation of judicial districts, and legislation providing for the punishment of crimes within Indian territories. Questions concerning bankruptcy policy and State boundaries were early additions to the Committee's responsibilities.
Jurisdiction over patents, trademarks, and copyright policy initially resided with the Committee until the Senate created the Committee on Patents in 1837. After the Civil War, the Committee's jurisdiction included restoration of former Confederate States to the Union
|Immigration and naturalization measures were considered by the Committee until 1889, when the Committee on Immigration was established. Also, in 1889, the Committee reported what became the Sherman Antitrust Act, the landmark legislation passed by Congress to limit monopolies.
The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 was passed by Congress to consolidate and reduce the number of standing committees. With the passage of the Act, the Judiciary Committee's jurisdiction again included apportioning Representatives; patents, trademarks, copyright policy; and immigration and naturalization. The Act also removed from the Committee's jurisdiction proposals affecting executive branch reorganization, convict labor, and the American National Red Cross. The Committee Reform Amendments of 1977 eliminated the Judiciary Committee's jurisdiction over meetings of Congress, attendance of Members, and their acceptance of incompatible offices. Pursuant to the 1977 reform bill, the Judiciary Committee now shares jurisdiction over government information with the Government Affairs Committee.