Feinstein to Step Down as Top Democrat on Senate Judiciary Committee

Durbin announces bid to replace her
November 24, 2020 Updated: November 24, 2020

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced late Monday that she will not be seeking a leadership position in the Senate Judiciary Committee, after which Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) signaled that he will seek the position.

The 87-year-old congresswoman announced, “After serving as the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee for four years, I will not seek the chairmanship or ranking member position in the next Congress.”

Feinstein has been the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee since 2017, prior to which she was chair and vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as chair of the Senate Rules Committee. She will still be a member of the committees in 2021 and remain on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Feinstein announced that she is looking forward to serving as a senior Democrat on these committees, where she hopes to work on issues surrounding “gun safety, immigration reform, and addressing inequities in criminal justice.”

She also listed COVID-19, combating climate change, and protecting access to healthcare as other priorities where she would devote her attention. Feinstein added that she would focus on California’s wildfires and droughts, which she called “existential threats” for her home state.

In late October, Feinstein faced backlash from Democrats when she praised Republicans for their organization of the hearings with then-Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

The hearings ended on Oct. 15, upon which Feinstein hugged Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chair of the Judiciary Committee, and praised him for “one of the best set of hearings that I have participated in.”

“I want to thank you for your fairness and the opportunity of going back and forth. It leaves one with a lot of hopes, a lot of questions and even some ideas—perhaps some good bipartisan legislation we can put together to make this great country even better,” she told Graham on Oct. 15.

Feinstein
Ranking Member Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) hug as the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett come to a close on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Oct. 15, 2020. (Samuel Corum/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate minority whip since 2015, said in a statement late Monday that he is seeking the top Democrat position on the Senate Judiciary Committee in response to Feinstein’s decision.

“I want to thank Senator Feinstein for her distinguished leadership on the Judiciary Committee during turbulent years … I am proud to call her my friend and colleague, and I look forward to continuing to serve with her on the Committee in the years to come.”

Dick Durbin
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov. 10, 2020. (Susan Walsh/Pool/Getty Images)

“I intend to seek the top Democratic position on the Judiciary Committee in the 117th Congress. We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work on undoing the damage of the last four years and protecting fundamental civil and human rights,” he wrote, adding that he has served on the Senate Judiciary Committee for 22 years.

Durbin’s office has said there is nothing in Democratic caucus rules that blocks him form serving in his leadership post and also as the top Democrat on the judiciary committee.

In a statement, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was “grateful for Senator Feinstein’s leadership and contributions to our caucus and country” in the post.

Two Senate runoff races are coming up in Georgia on Jan. 5, 2021, which will help determine who controls the Senate. Republicans currently hold 50 seats and Democrats hold 48 seats. Republicans would need to win one seat to maintain their majority, and Democrats would need to win both seats to split control of the chamber 50-50.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is expected to reclaim the top Republican spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee next session after leaving for two years to head the Senate Finance Committee.

Tom Ozimek and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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