Sen. Dick Durbin looks to build enduring legacy as Judiciary Committee chairman


Illustration by Lily Ogburn

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told The Daily he hopes to use his role as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman to push the U.S. in a more just direction.

Camille Haines, Reporter

In February, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s 100th appointment to the federal judiciary, outpacing both the Trump and Obama administrations’ judge confirmation total at the same time in their respective presidencies. As the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is a focal point in the examination and confirmation of Biden’s judicial nominees.

In an email to The Daily, Durbin said he wants to use his position to help move the country in a more “moral” direction, saying the committee “stands at the forefront” of issues including gun violence, immigration and civil rights.

“I hope that when I look back on my time as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I can say that I used the jurisdiction of the Committee to help further bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice,” he said.

Legal studies Prof. Joanna Grisinger said the Biden administration has nominated a more diverse group of judges than past presidencies in terms of race, gender and practice background. The Biden administration holds the record for the most former public defenders confirmed to U.S. circuit courts. 

Grisinger also noted the Senate Judiciary Committee is crucial to vetting judicial candidates prior to their appearances before the rest of the Senate.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee has a really significant role in holding hearings on federal judges with raising concerns and going through their history,” Grisinger said.

Durbin has been a member of the Judiciary Committee for more than 20 years. Since being elected to the Senate in 1996, he’s participated in the confirmations of eight Supreme Court justices.

Durbin is now working on Supreme Court reform. In March, he and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), re-introduced a bill in the Senate that would require all open Supreme Court proceedings to be televised. 

Grassley’s press secretary Clare Slattery told The Daily over email that both senators have been working to increase government transparency for a long time.

“Senator Grassley has been glad to partner with Senator Durbin on the push to allow increased media access in the courts for many years, dating back several Congresses,” Slattery said.  

Recently, Durbin’s committee oversaw the January hearing with Ticketmaster where the company was investigated for antitrust violations. The issue was brought to Durbin and the committee following the meltdown of the website during ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s current tour. 

His role as Judiciary Committee chair also made headlines after ProPublica reported that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had accepted gifts from a major Republican donor. On Thursday, Durbin requested Chief Justice John Roberts testify in Congress about ethics rules for Supreme Court justices. 

Now, Durbin said he’s looking to build a legacy that centers on the esteem and importance of the committee itself.

“I hope to leave a legacy that honors the focus and respect the Senate Judiciary Committee deserves,” Durbin said. 

Email: [email protected]

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