Q&A: Senate Judiciary Committee
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: What issues are handled by the Senate Judiciary Committee?
A: The Senate Judiciary Committee is one of the original standing committees of the United States Senate. With sweeping legislative and oversight jurisdiction, the 20-member committee examines social, economic, legal and constitutional issues that matter to everyday Americans. From government surveillance to immigration, bankruptcy, criminal and patent laws, the panel has broad legislative authority to shape public policy, write legislation and conduct oversight to ensure that the laws are faithfully enforced. In our system of checks and balances, the Senate Judiciary Committee serves as an important check against executive overreach across the sprawling federal bureaucracy and has exclusive jurisdiction of the federal judiciary. As a member of the Judiciary Committee since Iowans first elected me to the U.S. Senate, I currently serve as chairman. From here I have continued my campaign for a more accountable government and work to identify bipartisan solutions to strengthen American society, from border security to public safety and national security. The Judiciary Committee has made good progress on a number of issues that may not make headlines, but nonetheless hit very close to home for many families. For example, the committee passed a bipartisan bill to address the pain killer and heroin addiction gripping communities across America. We also cleared my bipartisan legislation to reauthorize for the first time in more than a decade the Juvenile Justice Reform Act to improve the fairness and effectiveness of grant programs that serve at-risk youth and those in custody of juvenile detention or correction facilities. The Judiciary Committee also conducted an oversight hearing and received compelling testimony from witnesses about lax enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws. The flawed policies that have failed to deport criminal immigrants have created heartbreak and hardship for too many American families. Under my leadership, the committee is continuing to explore ways to solve misguided sanctuary policies that allow drunk drivers and gang members to put public safety at risk.
Q: What has the Judiciary Committee achieved so far this Congress?
A: There are those who would like people to believe that Congress isn’t getting anything accomplished. Reality tells a different story. As Chairman, I’ve steered 24 bipartisan bills out of the committee and reported 49 nominees to the full Senate for consideration. So far, 16 bills have passed the full Senate and six have been signed into law. Between the full committee and subcommittees, we’ve held 68 hearings to consider criminal sentencing reform, justice for human trafficking victims, patent reform, and problems with civil asset forfeiture, among other matters. Although the President would like Congress to rubber stamp every proposal he suggests, that’s not the way our separation of powers works. In fact, I approach federal spending and regulatory regimes with a healthy dose of skepticism. It was from the Senate Judiciary Committee where I first launched an effort to empower whistleblowers to help expose waste, fraud and abuse. Lawmakers need all the eyes and ears we can get within the vast bureaucracy to stretch the value of every tax dollar and serve the public as effectively and efficiently as possible. As a family farmer holding the gavel of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I bring a unique perspective to issues that matter in Rural America. I make no bones about scrutinizing business practices and consolidation in the farm sector to help ensure independent producers capture a fair share of the food dollar. I’ve raised concerns about concentration in the seed, fertilizer and meat processing industries, for example. Again, despite outside efforts to fixate on raw partisanship that won’t achieve common ground, I’m working to wrap up unfinished business, such as passing landmark criminal sentencing reform that would give nonviolent offenders and taxpayers a fair shake; strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to greatly improve the public’s access to government records and restore confidence and accountability in institutions of government; and, boosting our innovation economy by passing patent reform to bring an end to abusive patent litigation.
Q: What’s something about the Judiciary Committee people are surprised to learn?
A: Not surprisingly, many people typically equate the Judiciary Committee with having to do with the courts and law enforcement. To be sure, the committee conducts oversight of the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and immigration agencies. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee also is a vehicle to ensure our system of free enterprise is operating as effectively and efficiently as possible. Keeping tabs on competitive business practices, cutting burdensome regulatory red tape and curbing frivolous lawsuits are issues that may not come to people’s minds, for example. Everyday Americans are concerned about earning a paycheck, paying bills and saving for college and retirement. There is deep-seated frustration about a government that taxes too much, spends too much and borrows too much. The $19 trillion national debt is a looming fiscal crisis that darkens the doorstep of our children and grandchildren. That’s why I recently led a hearing to build support for a Balanced Budget Amendment to help restore fiscal discipline in Washington. Driven by the promise for prosperity and opportunity, people work hard and swing for the fences. That entrepreneurial spirit and boot strap work ethic are on display in neighborhoods across America. From the helm of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will continue working to shape public policy that builds upon America’s landscape of opportunity, mobility and prosperity. That includes policies that promote a fair and just society for law-abiding citizens and zero tolerance for terrorism, illegal drugs and human trafficking.