As Congress wraps up business for the 115th Congress, I come to the floor to reflect upon the work of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
I’ve served on the Judiciary Committee for each of my 38 years in the Senate. Four years ago, I became chairman.
Senator Leahy, my colleague from Vermont who served as chairman before I took the reins, marked the occasion by presenting me with a larger-than-life gavel. It was a light-hearted moment. And I appreciated his gesture of good will and collegiality.
It’s this spirit of camaraderie that sustains the United States Senate and has guided the bipartisan accomplishments of the Judiciary Committee. The work we do on the Judiciary Committee shapes our way of life in America.
Its legislative jurisdiction includes constitutional amendments; bankruptcy laws; civil liberties; immigration; patents, copyrights and trademarks; antitrust laws; juvenile justice; criminal laws; and more. It conducts oversight of the Justice Department, including the FBI and sections of the Homeland Security Department. It also handles consideration of judicial nominations.
As chairman, I put forth a number of legislative priorities. I wanted to increase oversight efforts to hold government accountable and advance judicial confirmations. I wanted to strengthen whistleblower protections and increase competition in the pharmaceutical market to lower the cost of prescription drugs. I wanted to enact juvenile justice reform and update our criminal justice system. I wanted to protect election integrity and bolster victims’ rights.
At the close of this Congress, I’m happy to report that this committee has made progress on all of these priorities.
This week, the Senate passed the First Step Act – a historic criminal justice reform bill that had overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress and the backing of the president. And earlier this month, the Senate unanimously passed bipartisan juvenile justice legislation, which hadn’t been updated since 2002.
The Elder Abuse and Prevention and Prosecution Act; the Missing Children’s Reauthorization Act; and Kevin and Avonte’s Law to help families locate people with dementia and others who wander and go missing all became law during the 115th Congress.
Overall, 61 bills were reported out of the Judiciary Committee. Of those bills, 45 were passed by the Senate and 29 became law in the last two congresses under Presidents Obama and Trump.
All of these were bipartisan.
The Committee also delivered on judicial nominations. The U.S. Senate confirmed a historic number of lifetime appointments to the federal bench this Congress. That includes 53 district court judges; 30 circuit court judges and two Supreme Court justices. Eighty-five federal judgeships in the last two years alone. This reflects an all-time record for the first two years of any presidency.
These lifetime appointments will uphold the rule of law and preserve freedom and liberty for generations to come.
These accomplishments weren’t easy. There was contention, rigorous debate and plenty of disagreement.
The confirmation hearing for Justice Brett Kavanaugh was the height of discord on the committee. As chairman, I was determined to uphold order and the rule of law, protect due process and maintain credibility in our constitutional responsibility of advice and consent.
I took the allegations that were brought forth very seriously.
The committee conducted the most thorough, comprehensive and transparent confirmation process in history. We left no stone unturned. In the end, another extremely well-qualified justice was confirmed.
However, the divisions that defined the Kavanaugh hearing does not define the body of work produced by the committee during this Congress.
The Judiciary Committee passed seven bipartisan bills to help families, health care professionals and law enforcement address the opioid crisis in their local communities. The president signed these measures into law with the support for Patients and Communities Act. We also passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in 2016 to rapidly respond to the opioid crisis and prevent others from falling into addiction.
With hearings and legislation the Judiciary Committee also worked toward ending the pervasive problem of human trafficking. In all, the Senate adopted a series of five bills that were signed into law to enhance federal efforts to protect victims and prevent and prosecute enslavement for forced labor and sex trafficking.
As a committee, we’ve made great progress on behalf of the American people. We tackled the priorities I outlined at the beginning of my chairmanship and achieved success on a bipartisan basis. That’s what our constituents expect of us. That’s what I strived to deliver every day.
The 115th Congress is drawing to a close. Though I won’t serve as chairman during the next Congress, I have every confidence that my friend, Senator Graham, will build upon the successes we’ve accomplished. I look forward to continuing my service on the Judiciary Committee in the next Congress and am thankful to my colleagues for their hard work and cooperation on behalf of the American people.
I yield the floor.