December 30, 2022

Senate Judiciary Committee Announces Accomplishments Under Chair Durbin During the 117th Congress

WASHINGTON – On February 2, 2021, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) took a new title: Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In its first year under Durbin’s leadership, the Committee restored the Committee’s historic oversight role; took steps to address key challenges confronting the country—including voting rights, gun violence prevention, immigration, and criminal justice reform—and confirmed highly qualified nominees who are bringing balance and impartiality to our justice system. As the Committee’s record pace continued through 2022, Chair Durbin and Committee members were able to build upon the progress made in 2021, resulting in one of the most consequential Congresses in the Committee’s history.
 
In the 117th Congress, the Durbin-led Judiciary Committee held 76 full Committee hearings, 41 subcommittee hearings, and 50 executive business meetings; advanced 233 executive and judicial nominees out of Committee; and reported 39 bills out of Committee.
 
“This moment in history demands much of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I have been honored to lead my colleagues as we face these challenges head-on.  From  confirming 97 of President Biden’s highly qualified judicial nominees, including the first Black woman to the Supreme Court; to restoring regular agency oversight and advancing crucial legislation for the American people—the Committee’s successes over the last two years, in an evenly divided Senate and Committee, have been historic,” Durbin said.  “I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in the 118th Congress.”
 
Advancing judicial and executive nominations
 
Under Chair Durbin’s leadership, the Senate confirmed an impressive 97 Article III judges during the 117th Congress, including the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson; 28 circuit court judges; and 68 district court judges—surpassing the number of Article III judges confirmed in the first two years of the past two administrations.
 
Beyond a landmark Supreme Court confirmation, the Committee advanced other historic executive and judicial nominees including: Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, the first civil rights lawyer confirmed to this role; Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, the first Black woman confirmed to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, one of only two Black judges currently serving on the Seventh Circuit and only the second ever; Beth Robinson, the first openly LGBTQ woman to serve on any federal circuit court; Lucy Koh, the first Korean-American woman to serve on a U.S. federal appeals court; Dana Douglas, the first woman of color to ever serve on the Fifth Circuit; Zahid Quraishi, the first Muslim American federal judge in U.S. history; and John Lee, the first Asian American to serve on the Seventh Circuit.
 
The judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate also reflect impressive professional diversity. The Judiciary Committee held hearings for more than 30 public defenders, more than a dozen civil rights lawyers, at least five lawyers with a labor background, more than 25 prosecutors, and at least 60 sitting state and federal judges. 
 
Restoring regular agency oversight
 
This Congress, Durbin restored the tradition of regular agency oversight hearings by the Committee. In 2021, Durbin held the Committee’s first Department of Justice (DOJ) oversight hearing since 2017 and the first Department of Homeland Security (DHS) oversight hearing since 2018. Durbin also held two oversight hearings with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray.
 
Durbin called for a new, reform-minded Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director to replace former Director Michael Carvajal in November 2021, following an Associated Press report that found that BOP is a “hotbed of abuse, graft and corruption, and has turned a blind eye to employees accused of misconduct.”  Carvajal’s resignation was announced less than two months later.  Durbin held a BOP oversight hearing in September 2022 with the new Director, Colette Peters, which was her first testimony before Congress since taking over at the Bureau.
 
“Subverting Justice: How the Former President and his Allies Pressured DOJ to Overturn the 2020 Election”
 
Following the deadly January 6, 2021, attack on our Capitol, stemming from former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, in October 2021, Durbin and the Committee released new testimony and a staff report entitled “Subverting Justice: How the Former President and his Allies Pressured DOJ to Overturn the 2020 Election.” The report and testimony revealed that our nation was only a half-step away from a full blown constitutional crisis as President Trump and his loyalists threatened a wholesale takeover of DOJ. The report also revealed how former DOJ Acting Civil Division Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark became Trump’s Big Lie Lawyer, attempting to pressure his colleagues in DOJ to overturn of the 2020 election.
 
Work on crucial legislation
 
Preventing and responding to the gun violence epidemic
 
The Committee held 11 hearings in the 117th Congress on aspects of the gun violence epidemic, including a field hearing on gun trafficking in the Chair’s home state of Illinois. Following the tragic death of Chicago Police Officer Ella French, who was shot and killed from a gun that had been straw-purchased from Indiana, Durbin held a hearing focusing on the threat that our nation’s gun violence epidemic poses to law enforcement officers.  
 
Sadly, our nation suffered many mass shootings in the last two years, including at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed, and during the 4th of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, the Chair’s home state, where seven people were killed and dozens wounded. In response to these horrific shootings, Chair Durbin held hearings examining the lasting trauma that gun violence leaves on children and the dangers of widespread civilian access to military-style assault weapons.
 
In response to the gun violence epidemic, Durbin and members of the Committee worked to pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most significant gun safety law in nearly 30 years.
 
Combatting domestic terrorism
 
As the growing threat of domestic violent extremist groups and individuals (DVEs), including violent white supremacists, continues to rise, Durbin has used his position to raise awareness of this significant threat and call for action to address it. In March 2021, Durbin held his first oversight hearing as Chair of the Committee on domestic terrorism and FBI oversight, and he held a second hearing on domestic terrorism in January 2022, one year after the January 6, 2021, insurrection.  Following the tragic shooting in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store that killed ten Black Americans in a racist act of violence, Durbin held a third hearing on domestic terrorism, featuring testimony from the son of one of the shooting victims.
 
Durbin is the lead author of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, legislation that would enhance the federal government’s efforts to prevent domestic terrorism by establishing offices dedicated to combating this threat; requiring federal law enforcement agencies to regularly assess this threat; and providing training and resources to assist state, local, and tribal law enforcement in addressing it.
 
Defending reproductive health care
 
Durbin made it a priority to respond to efforts to strip Americans of their reproductive health freedom. In September 2021, the Committee held a hearing examining the Supreme Court’s abuse of its “shadow-docket” following its order permitting Texas’s extreme abortion restrictions to take effect. The following summer, the Committee held a hearing on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which marked the first time in America’s history that the Court revoked a constitutionally protected right.
 
Supporting domestic violence survivors
 
In March 2022, Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization Act—led by Durbin and Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The same month as VAWA's reauthorization, President Biden signed into law the bipartisan Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, sponsored in the Senate by Durbin and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). In 2021, President Biden signed into law the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act—a Durbin-led bill that, like VAWA, will help survivors of domestic violence and victims of violent crimes access the professional services and support they desperately need.
 
In September 2021, Olympic and world champion gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman testified at a landmark Committee hearing on the FBI's dereliction of duty in the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case. To build on that hearing, Durbin, Feinstein, and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent additional oversight letters to continue to hold the FBI’s feet to the fire; while Durbin and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the bipartisan Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act to ensure that survivors of child sex abuse can seek justice in federal court no matter when their abuse occurred.  This legislation was signed into law in 2022.
 
Preserving the sacred right to vote & protecting election workers
 
Durbin has long advocated that in order to preserve our democracy, we must protect the constitutional right to vote in free, fair elections. Following efforts to diminish and impede voting rights across the country, Durbin held a hearing to examine America’s long history of voter suppression laws. Durbin also held a hearing on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
 
Former President Donald Trump’s plot to overturn the 2020 election wreaked havoc on America, including by threatening the election workers who perform the on-the-ground work necessary to ensure a free and fair election. In response, Durbin held a hearing to examine the threats to election workers. The hearing provided DOJ’s first testimony to Congress since DOJ’s announcement that it was launching a task force to address the rise in threats against election officials.
 
Protecting human rights at home and abroad 
 
Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley introduced and sent to the President’s desk the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, legislation that updates the current war crimes statute to enable prosecution of war criminals in the United States regardless of the location or targets of their atrocities. Durbin also has emphasized the need to hold Russia accountable for its crimes against Ukraine through Committee hearings centered on war crimes and on aiding Ukraine through the forfeiture of Russian oligarchs’ illicit assets.  
 
Durbin has also been a vocal advocate of shuttering the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. After holding the Committee’s first hearing on the need to close Guantanamo in 2013, in 2021, Durbin held another hearing where he reiterated his frequent calls to close the detention facilities. Durbin emphasized that keeping the detention center open undermines America’s moral standing and credibility around the world and wastes taxpayer dollars. Durbin, leading 23 of his Democratic colleagues, also wrote to President Biden to urge him to close the facility permanently. 
 
Durbin has also called attention to the human cost of using drone strikes to lethally target suspected terrorists overseas. In a February 2022 hearing, Durbin stressed that since he held the first-ever Congressional hearing on drone strikes in 2013, thousands of civilians have been killed by U.S. coalition strikes. Durbin has repeatedly urged his colleagues to revisit the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF), which has become the legal basis for these strikes; and he has urged the Biden Administration to halt unnecessary drone strikes and take steps to prevent the deaths of innocent bystanders.  
 
Stateside, Durbin has focused Committee efforts on addressing the rise in hate crimes across the U.S. In a March 2022 Committee hearing, Durbin questioned Assistant Attorney General at DOJ Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke about actions taken to combat white supremacy and protect marginalized groups from targeted assaults.  
 
Durbin is also a fierce advocate for the rights of LGBTQ Americans. Durbin held the first Senate hearing on the Equality Act, legislation that would codify federal civil rights protections for LGBTQ Americans.
 
Spearheading criminal justice reform
 
Chair Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley partnered together on efforts to build on the landmark First Step Act and further reform our criminal justice system. They worked to advance bipartisan reform legislation through the Committee and repeatedly urged DOJ and BOP to fully implement the First Step Act, including through correctly awarding Earned Time Credits to incarcerated individuals who participate in recidivism-reduction programming. Durbin also held a hearing on the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity, which highlighted how the disparity continues to disproportionately impact African-Americans, without any apparent public safety benefit. 
 
Supporting law enforcement
 
The Committee advanced critical legislation to support law enforcement officers and their families by providing more support for mental health needs and helping to make sure officers have the resources and training they need to provide safe and effective community policing. President Biden signed a number of these bills into law, including the Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2022, which extends disability and death benefits to families of officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or die by suicide in the line of duty.
 
Senate Judiciary Subcommittees
 
In addition to full committee hearings, the Committee’s eight Subcommittees held numerous important hearings on matters under the Committee’s jurisdiction. The Subcommittee Chairs for the 117th Congress included: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chair of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, who held important hearings on intellectual property rights and oversight; Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, who continued her longstanding leadership on human rights issues; Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chair of the Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights, who chaired critical hearings on judicial ethics, executive privilege, and bankruptcy reform; and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Chair of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, who held landmark hearings on the impact of big tech practices on Americans’ privacy.
 
The Subcommittee on the Constitution, chaired by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); and the Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, chaired by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), led the Subcommittees in total number of hearings held, with eight and seven respectively, as Senator Blumenthal chaired important hearings on gun violence prevention and constitutional rights and Senator Klobuchar upheld her commitment to “make antitrust cool again.”
 
And under Chair Durbin’s leadership, the Committee saw several historic firsts, as Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chair of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, became the first Black Senator to chair a Judiciary Subcommittee and held critical hearings on criminal justice and policing reform; and Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) took the gavel as the first Latino Chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety. His subcommittee held hearings focused on strengthening our immigration system, including how immigrants can help fill gaps in our health care system to ensure that our communities have access to the health care they need and deserve, and removing barriers to legal migration to strengthen our economy.
 
Finally, none of these accomplishments would have been possible without the hard work and support of our distinguished dais of Democratic leaders: Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Jon Ossoff (D-GA).
 
To you and yours: Happy holidays and a joyous New Year!
 
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