Senate Judiciary Committee

DiFi and the Silly Season of Senate Committee Music Chairs

A little over an hour ago, there was some rather notable news tweeted out by CNN:

Intel cte’s @SenFeinstein will give up the chair and move to Judiciary, source tells @CapitolHillCNN. @SenatorReid to announce today

I have talked to both sources at both the Senate Judiciary Committee and Personnel offices and have yet to hear a denial. This is, then, significant news as to a complete reshuffling of key Majority Senate Leadership assuming it continues to bear out.

First off, a tenured Senator like Feinstein does not leave a high value Committee Chairmanship without another, or something higher, on the offer. CNN said she it is to “move to Judiciary”. But DiFi has long been a member of the SJC, that can only portend she will then become Chairman of Judiciary.

Ryan Grim at Huffington Post has also picked up this shuffle, and beat me to the punch by a few minutes:

If Feinstein does take over leadership of the Judiciary Committee, that could ease the passage in the Senate of a renewed assault weapons ban, which was passed under President Bill Clinton in 1994 but expired in 2004. The shooting rampage on Friday in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were murdered by a gunman with a military-style assault weapon and high-capacity magazines, has renewed calls for stricter gun control legislation.

On Tuesday, speaking in the Capitol before the party’s weekly caucus lunch, Feinstein told reporters who had asked her whether she will jump to Judiciary, “Keep tuned. I think it is [going to become open], and I think it’ll happen.”

On Monday, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) who was the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, passed away at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Now that Inouye’s post is empty, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is rumored to be looking at taking over Appropriations — in turn opening up the leadership slot at Judiciary. Feinstein could then move from her current spot as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee to chair Judiciary.

That is good, fast reporting and coincides with what I can discern. And Appropriations Chair is a long time traditional home for the Senate Pro-Tem, which Pat Leahy became with yesterday’s passing of Inouye.

So, what about SSCI? Next in line would, by seniority, be Jay Rockefeller. But, as Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann pointed out, Rockefeller gave up leadership at Intel nearly three years ago to take over the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee helm, and there is no reason to think he would double back. That gave a brief glimmer of hope that Ron Wyden might get the nod at SSCI, but HuffPo’s Grim, in a tweet, thinks he is more likely to take over the helm of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the outgoing Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who did not seek reelection. That would mean the next senior Democrat on SSCI as Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

Now, if I were Wyden, I would want the SSCI job over Energy. It is likely most progressives would like him there as well, which is why the smart money likely says Reid talks him into the Energy Chair.

So, we are into the Congressional equivalent of Formula One silly season; i.e. the end of the year shuffling of drivers before the season is really over. The one real wildcard here is Wyden.

Senate Judiciary Committee: Closing the Barn Door after the Barn’s Been Foreclosed

Sometime this week, the long-awaited terms for the foreclosure settlement will be released, giving banks immunity for much of the fraud and forgery they committed in the course of taking homeowners’ houses.

Which makes the timing of this hearing the Senate Judiciary Committee just announced beyond absurd.

“Examining Lending Discrimination Practices and Foreclosure Abuses”

Senate Judiciary Committee
Full Committee

DATE: March 7, 2012

A better time for such a hearing might have been December 2010, just as the full extent of the robosigning was being exposed. In fact, that’s the second-to-last hearing John Conyers hadbefore Dems lost their House majority. Since that time, he has been imploring the Administration and the Attorneys General to do something substantive about foreclosure problems, even asking MI’s AG not to sign onto the settlement.

But next week!?!?! Just as the settlement will be enacted, making many of these issues (though reportedly not civil rights issues) moot?!?! Really?!?!

I mean, if the Judiciary Committee is going to hold a hearing in the immediate future, it’d be far better to hold a hearing considering what impact it will have on justice in this country to assign a $2,000 price tag to fabricating forged documents or engaging in other fraudulent activities before a court. Will judges ever be able to trust corporations in their courtrooms again? Will private citizens have access to this $2,000 Get Out of Jail Free card, or only Too Big to Fail institutions?

Alternately, act like the bankster-owned body the Senate is, and simply call a hearing to discuss whether having pension funds pay to buy immunity for the banks hurts corporations.

And then there’s the witness list: right now, just Civil Rights Division head Thomas Perez will testify. I’m all in favor of Thomas Perez in most any role–his work at Civil Rights has easily been the best part of DOJ under Obama. But aren’t there other people who might better address foreclosure abuses, even if the hearing just focuses on lending discrimination?

I mean, I’m all in favor of someone finally conducting oversight over the fraud going on in this country. But this hearing couldn’t be more badly timed.

 

As Vaughn Walker Moves On, There Are No Replacements

As you have probably heard by now, Vaughn Walker, the Chief Judge for the Northern District of California, has announced his retirement:

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California announces today that Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker will step down as chief judge effective December 31, 2010. Also, Chief Judge Walker notified President Obama by letter today that he will leave the court in February 2011.

Chief Judge Walker has been a United States District Judge since February 5, 1990 and has served as chief judge of the court since September 1, 2004. Before becoming a federal judge, Chief Judge Walker was a litigation partner at the firm now known as Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. Upon leaving the federal bench, Chief Judge Walker plans to return to the private sector.

In his letter to the President, Chief Judge Walker said: ““Concluding twenty one years of judicial service, I leave the bench with the highest respect and regard for the federal judiciary, its judges and their staff and the essential role they fulfill in our constitutional system.””

By statute, United States district chief judges are selected based on a combination of age, seniority and experience and may serve in the post for a maximum of seven years. 28 USC § 136. By application of this statute, District Judge James Ware will assume the post of chief judge of the Northern District on January 1, 2011.

That was the formal announcement I received from Walker’s chambers. For further reportage, see the always outstanding Bay area legal reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Egelko. (I will take issue with one thing Egelko reported though, that Walker’s announcement was “unexpected”; I have heard rumors of him retiring at the end of the year for several months now.)

I started to write this post last night with a million thoughts swirling in my head on the plethora of important cases Walker has handled over the years and erudite opinions rendered thereon. There is far more to the man’s record than al-Haramain and Perry v. Schwarzenegger; he also sat on such blockbuster cases as the Hearst/ SF Chronicle Antitrust litigation, the Apple/Microsoft intellectual property battle, and the knock down drag out Oracle/Peoplesoft takeover war. And hundreds of others over the years that, from every opinion of his I have read over the last couple of decades, he treated with pretty much the same dedication and attention to detail as you see in the landmark cases you know him from now. Vaughn Walker was both driven and meticulous, they simply do not make many like that; even in the cream of the crop hallowed halls of the Federal judiciary, Vaughn Walker stands out and above.

But that part of Vaughn Walker’s career is winding down now, and in a little more than three months he will be out the door of his chambers at the Philip E. Burton Federal Courthouse for the last time. Many, if not most, Federal judges who retire after they are at least 65 years of age and have 15 or more years on the bench, go on “senior status” where they continue to receive full salary, but work only part time as needed and as they wish. Walker is not taking senior status though, instead Continue reading

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