The Senate Judiciary Committee will have three new Republican members this Congress. The three are Joni Ernst (Iowa), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee), and Josh Hawley (Missouri).
Sen. Hawley is a fantastic addition. He has served as Missouri’s Attorney General. He also clerked for Chief Justice Roberts (and before that, our friend Michael McConnell). It’s difficult to imagine better credentials for serving on the Judiciary Committee.
In addition, Hawley is a strong conservative.
The other two new GOP Committee members, Sens. Ernst and Blackburn, appear to be “affirmative action hires.” Republicans came under mindless criticism during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings because there were no female GOP Senators on the Committee. (This “deficit” apparently was a major reason why a female lawyer was brought in from the outside to question Kavanaugh’s accuser, which ended up working quite well.)
Enrst and Blackburn are the remedy. To the best of my knowledge neither has practiced law or attended law school. A background in law may not be an absolute prerequisite for effective service on the Judiciary Committee, but it certainly helps. All of the recent members (from both parties) whom I consider most effective have that background.
I’ve watched Ernst during hearings of the Armed Services Committee. I think she’s performed well, aided, presumably, by the fact that she has extensive background in the military. Perhaps she’ll come through on the Judiciary Committee.
Ernst is up for reelection in 2020. Her perch on the Judiciary Committee will enhance her visibility if there’s another high profile battle before that body. The battle to confirm William Barr won’t produce the drama or the passion of the Kavanaugh hearings, but it has the potential to bring some attention Ernst’s way.
Blackburn is a new Senator. Until now, she’s been in the House.
Blackburn is a strong, pro-life conservative who excels at sticking to her talking points. These are good qualities, but they don’t necessarily translate into effective service on the Judiciary Committee. Perhaps she has additional strengths that will so translate.
Both Ernst and Blackburn voted to enact First Step — the leniency for federal felons legislation that passed in both chambers last month. Ernst was an enthusiastic early supporter and, I believe, backed even more lenient legislation that failed to reach the Senate floor a few years ago.
“Second Step” is coming, I expect, though not until after 2020. That’s another reason why I’m not thrilled that Ernst and Blackburn are joining the Judiciary Committee.