What’s Next For Justice After 2010 Elections?

Intrigue, wishful-thinking and silly speculation are flourishing in the nation’s capital, as elsewhere in policy circles, now that the U.S. election results are (mostly) confirmed.

The leadership line-up for key congressional committees is a solid starting point to understand what’s next for our Justice Integrity Project’s core mission. The big change will be at the House Judiciary Committee, where the top-ranking Republican minority member Lamar Smith of Texas, left, will switch places with Chairman John Conyers of Michigan.

Smith is a 1969 Yale College classmate of former President George W. Bush who represents a gerrymandered district that is mostly rural but contains small parts of his state capital of Austin and of San Antonio.

Conyers, 81 and representing a chunk of Detroit, is the second longest-tenured member of congress next to his former boss John Dingell. Conyers documented political prosecutions under the Bush administration with a series of hard-hitting investigative reports in 2007 and 2008. But he cut back on effective oversight of the Justice Department after the Obama administration took power. Also, his much-younger wife Monica became enmeshed in a bribery investigation stemming from her post on Detroit’s City Council. After a 2009 guilty plea she began serving a prison term in September. Her husband, widely regarded by my sources from both parties as not implicated in the bribery but obviously hurt by the scandal, won re-election by with 75 of his district's vote last week.

Republican U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, below, is a self-made millionaire from a Southern California district just north of San Diego. Issa is in line to succeed Democrat Adolphus Towns of Brooklyn, NY as chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa since last summer has boasted of how he’s been interviewing more staff to investigate Democratic scandals if elected. This would be a big change. Towns, unlike his predecessor as chairman Henry Waxman of California, has done almost nothing of any consequence in terms of high-impact investigations.

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy of Vermont, right, handily won re-election and retains his chairmanship under a narrowed Democratic majority. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, not facing reelection, remains the top Republican. Like his other Democratic colleagues, Leahy has moved slowly on both oversight and judicial and prosecutor nominations in deference to colleagues and the leisurely Senate pace on most decision-making.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, 76, at left in a file photo, won re-election with 65 percent of the vote last week. He put a temporary hold earlier this year on virtually every Obama nomination for the entire government to get his way on an Alabama issue. Democrats, as usual, showed scant public interest in the matter.

Obama nominations are expected to slow even further, leaving the vast bulk of the federal judiciary and much of the career staff of judicial bureaucracies with appointees of Republican presidents.


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