Judiciary Committee Reshuffle

Two Opponents of Abortion Are Tapped for Senate Judiciary Panel (WaPo)

Senate Republican leaders yesterday appointed two of Congress’s most outspoken antiabortion members to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is bracing for potentially bruising hearings on nominations to the Supreme Court. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Sen.-elect Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) will join the panel’s eight returning Republicans next month, assuming the Republican Conference follows tradition and approves the leadership’s committee assignments for all 55 GOP senators. The breakdown of Judiciary will be 10 Republicans and eight Democrats.

With Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, 80, fighting cancer, and three other justices in their seventies or eighties, many lawmakers expect that President Bush will fill the Supreme Court’s first vacancies in more than a decade. Battles over judicial nominations, which are subject to Senate approval, begin in Judiciary. The panel holds hearings and votes on whether to recommend confirmation by the full chamber. Abortion is certain to be a focus of debate for any nominee to the high court, which for three decades has upheld the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure nationwide. While Coburn and Brownback will be the committee’s newest Republicans, their records suggest they may rank among the most outspoken on abortion.

Coburn, an obstetrician, has advocated the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions. Last year, Brownback introduced the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, which would have required a woman seeking an abortion to be told that the fetus might feel pain and that it could be given an anesthetic.

Antiabortion groups hailed yesterday’s appointments, while advocates of keeping abortion legal expressed dismay. “The color code for potential threats to the Constitution just went from orange to red,” said Ralph G. Neas of People for the American Way. “It’s hard to believe the Judiciary Committee could go any farther to the right, but it just did.”

Given that the GOP has won its sixth straight congressional election, one would certainly expect that the Judiciary Committee would reflect the views of its leadership. A smart move by Majority Leader Frist, which should help solidify his standing among the base for his presumed 2008 presidential bid.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.