Senate Judiciary Committee Releases 2023 Year-in-Review

In 2023, the Committee held 35 full Committee hearings, 26 subcommittee hearings, and 22 executive business meetings; advanced 103 executive and judicial nominees out of Committee; and reported 17 bills out of Committee

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, proudly released the 2023 Senate Judiciary Committee Year-In-Review.

“Our democracy demands much of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I am honored to lead this Committee to defend our freedoms, advance justice and equality, and bring balance to our federal judiciary. We advanced highly qualified nominees, who reflect the diversity of America. We continued to revitalize our Committee’s oversight role. And importantly, we made progress on issues critical to the American people, including protecting children online, supporting Ukraine’s fight for freedom, Supreme Court ethics reform, and much more. 

“I thank all Senate Judiciary Democrats for their hard work to ensure equal justice for all and uphold our democracy. We welcomed two dedicated members to our ranks this year in Senators Welch and Butler. And tragically, we lost a historic trailblazer and longtime leader on this Committee in Senator Feinstein, who for decades was a champion for LGBTQ+ Americans, reproductive rights, gun violence prevention, and many other issues under the Committee’s jurisdiction. We will honor her tenacity and determination by continuing our work together to deliver for the American people.

“I’m also grateful to Ranking Member Graham and a number of our Senate Judiciary Republican colleagues who have been willing to work across the aisle to advance executive and judicial nominees and bipartisan legislation, including our kids’ online safety efforts.”

By the numbers, in 2023, the Senate Judiciary Committee held 35 full Committee hearings, 26 subcommittee hearings, and 22 executive business meetings; advanced 103 executive and judicial nominees out of Committee; and reported 17 bills out of Committee.

Read the 2023 Senate Judiciary Committee Year-in-Review below formore information on accomplishments by current Senate Judiciary Democrats: Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL), and U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Laphonza Butler (D-CA).

In 2023, the Senate confirmed 69 judges to lifetime appointments on the federal bench, bringing the total number of Article III judges confirmed under Chair Durbin and during the Biden Administration to 166. Since Senate Democrats took the majority in 2021, the Senate has confirmed 126 district court judges, 39 circuit court judges, and Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

These lifetime appointees are highly qualified, diverse, and committed to equal justice for all. Aside from their exceptional qualifications and respect for the rule of law, these confirmations represent historic demographic diversity, including:

  • More women confirmed to the federal bench under President Biden than under any Republican President.
  • More women of color confirmed to the federal bench under President Biden than any President.
  • More Black women confirmed to the federal circuit courts under President Biden than all prior Presidents combined.
  • More people of color confirmed to the federal circuit court under President Biden than under any other President.
  • The first-ever Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
  • Historic numbers of Asian-American judges, Latino judges, LGBTQ+ judges, and so much more.

These confirmations also represent historic professional diversity, including:

  • More public defenders confirmed to the federal circuit court under President Biden than any prior President.
  • A stronger emphasis on confirming more civil rights, legal aid, and election and voting rights lawyers.

This year, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced 103 executive and judicial nominees to the full Senate, including:

  • 13 circuit court judges
  • 68 district court judges
  • Two judges for the Court of International Trade
  • Nine U.S. Attorneys
  • Six U.S. Marshals
  • Three Department of Justice nominees

Since becoming Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2021, Durbin has restored and revitalized the tradition of regular agency oversight for executive branch agencies within the Committee’s jurisdiction.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

In December, the Committee held an FBI oversight hearing featuring Director Wray. The hearing marked the third oversight hearing of the FBI by the Committee since 2021.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was extended until April 2024 as bipartisan and bicameral negotiations continue over a longer extension, Durbin remains a leader in pushing forsignificant reforms to prevent warrantless surveillance of Americans; earlier this year, he held an oversight hearing on Section 702 with five senior administration officials.

Durbin also pressed the FBI for answers about the impact of former FBI official Charles McGonigal’s alleged misconduct.

Department of Justice (DOJ)

In March, the Committee held a DOJ oversight hearing featuring Attorney General Garland. The hearing marked the second oversight hearing with the Attorney General since 2021; the 2021 hearing was the Committee’s first oversight hearing of the department since 2017.

Bureau of Prisons (BOP)

In September, the Committee held a BOP oversight hearing featuring Director Peters. The hearing marked the third oversight hearing of BOP by the Committee since 2021.

Additionally, Durbin pressed BOP to investigate allegations of abuse at United States Penitentiary (USP) Thomson in Illinois and Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Hazelton in West Virginia. The actions continue Durbin’s demand for reform at the agency following his callfor a new, reform-minded BOP Director in 2021, then-Director Carvajal’s resignation, and Director Peters’ subsequent appointment as the head of the Bureau.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

In March, the Committee held a DHS oversight hearing, featuring Secretary Mayorkas. The hearing marked the second oversight hearing of DHS since 2021; the 2021 hearing was the Committee’s first oversight hearing of the department since 2018.

Last week, Durbin pressed for further investigation into systemic failures at U.S. Customs and Border Protection and its medical care contractor, following public reporting of deaths in custody and disclosures by whistleblowers.

Following a bombshell New York Times report detailing abuse and exploitation of migrant children, the Committee has been exercising its oversight responsibility to ensure these children’s safety and well-being, holding two hearings on the topic. In June, Durbin and Padilla pressed Secretary Becerra for answers regarding reports that the Department of Health and Human Services dismissed warnings of threats to the safety of migrant children that the agency placed with sponsors. In October, Durbin urged the Department of Labor to hold companies accountable for violating child labor laws. Also in October, Durbin introduced the Protecting Unaccompanied Children Act to address gaps in our immigration system by improving existing safeguards for the release of migrant children from government custody, increasing unaccompanied children’s access to social services and legal protections, and creating new safeguards and services forchildren’s safety.

The Committee has continued its investigation into the exploitation of online platforms by domestic extremists to radicalize, recruit, and amplify violence and threats of violence. In March, Durbin pressedseven publishers of online games with reported extremist content issues to do more to identify and remove extremist content. He also requested information from DOJ and DHS about federal efforts to address this growing threat from extremists and other malicious actors.

Legislating to deliver for the American people

Since the beginning of the year, Chair Durbin has rallied the Senate Judiciary Committee around a key bipartisan issue: protecting children from the dangers of the online world. The Committee held a hearing in February featuring powerful testimony from advocates, experts, and families who are working to increase children’s privacy and safety online. 

This year, the Committee unanimously reported multiple bipartisan bills to help stop the exploitation of kids online, including:

  • The STOP CSAM Act, which supports victims and increases accountability and transparency for online platforms;
  • The EARN IT Act, which removes tech’s blanket immunity from civil and criminal liability under child sexual abuse material laws and establishes a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention;
  • The SHIELD Actwhich helps ensure that federal prosecutors have appropriate and effective tools to address the nonconsensual distribution of sexual imagery;
  • The Project Safe Childhood Act, which modernizes the investigation and prosecution of online child exploitation crimes; and,
  • The REPORT Act, which combats the rise in online child sexual exploitation by establishing new measures to help strengthen reporting of those crimes to the CyberTipline.

The Committee also advanced on a bipartisan basis the Cooper Davis Act, which would require social media companies to take on a more active role in reporting the illegal sale and distribution of drugs on their platforms. Durbin helped secure Senate passage of the Preventing Child Sex Abuse Act, which clarifies the criminal provision prohibiting travel across state lines with the intent to sexually abuse a minor.

In the new year, the Committee will hear directly from Big Tech CEOs from Meta, X (formerly known as Twitter), TikTok, Snap, and Discord about their failure to protect children online, as announced by Durbin and Graham.

Reforming Supreme Court ethics

The Supreme Court’s ethics crisis has brought public confidence in the Court to an all-time low. Ensuring that all Supreme Court justices are subject to an enforceable code of conduct is critical to reestablishing the American people’s trust in the Court, and Senate Judiciary Democrats took steps to advance that cause in 2023.

Chair Durbin first called on the Chief Justice to establish an enforceable code of conduct more than 11 years ago. Since then, Supreme Court justices have engaged in dozens of reported instances of apparent unethical conduct—and many more instances of potential misconduct may remain unknown to us due to loopholes in existing law.

Following a bombshell ProPublica report in April, all Senate Judiciary Democrats pressed the Chief Justice for an investigation. Durbin invited the Chief Justice to testify before the Committee, a request which the Chief Justice declined. Durbin held a full committee hearing on Supreme Court ethics reform in May, and Senator Whitehouse held a subcommittee hearing on judicial ethics later that month.

In July, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act to the full Senate. The bill would require Supreme Court justices to adopt an enforceable code of conduct, create a mechanism to investigate alleged violations of the code of conduct and other laws, improve disclosure and transparency when a justice has a connection to a party or amicus before the Court, and require justices to explain their recusal decisions to the public.

As more investigative reporting called into question the ability of certain justices to fairly discharge their duties, Durbin and other Senate Judiciary Democrats called for recusals from Justice Alito in Moore v. U.S. and Justice Thomas in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo.

The Committee continued its investigation to inform its legislative efforts by issuing a series of information requests, including to Harlan Crow, Leonard Leo, Robin Arkley, Paul Singer, Paul Novelly, and David Sokol; and the Supreme Court Historical Society. This ongoing effort has led to the Committee receiving information, engaging in protracted negotiations, and voting to authorize subpoenas to specific individuals.

In response to the Committee’s efforts and calls from the public, the Chief Justice provided in April the “Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices” that all justices purported to follow. In November, the Supreme Court announced its first-ever code of conduct for Supreme Court Justices. In response, Durbin took to the Senate floor to describe the code as “fall[ing] short of what we could and should expect.” While an important first step, the code announced by the Roberts Court does not contain any meaningful enforcement mechanism to hold justices accountable for violations of the code. It also leaves a wide range of decisions up to the discretion of individual justices, including recusal decisions.

Supporting Ukraine’s fight for freedom

Since Vladimir Putin and the Russian military’s unprovoked, brutal invasion of Ukraine, Durbin and the Senate Judiciary Committee have worked to support Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people’s fight for freedom and democracy.

In April, Durbin held a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on accountability for Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine with Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

In December, the Justice Department announced first-of-its-kind war crimes charges against four Russian men in connection to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, heeding the call of Chair Durbin and Ranking Member Graham to utilize existing authorities to prosecute war criminals. In July, the Biden Administration heeded Durbin and Graham’s bipartisan call to support the International Criminal Court’s investigation into atrocities in Ukraine, utilizing the enhanced authority provided by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus.

Durbin continues to push for a statute prohibiting crimes against humanity to ensure that the perpetrators of atrocities like those we have seen in Ukraine are held to account.

Defending reproductive health care

Following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June 2022 that stripped women of the constitutional right to an abortion, and relentless efforts by elected Republicans at the state, local, and federal level to deny Americans reproductive health freedom, Durbin and the Senate Judiciary Committee made it a priority to defend a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.

In April, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “The Assault on Reproductive Rights in a Post-Dobbs America,” which examined the devastating fallout since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade. It was the first hearing focused on reproductive rights in the House or the Senate this year.

Durbin also led the fight to preserve access to the medication abortion pill mifepristone, following an ongoing push by anti-abortion extremists to ban the sale of a drug that was approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration more than two decades ago. Durbin co-led multiple amicus briefs filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court in support of protecting access to mifepristone, following a Texas district court ruling that threatened access nationwide to the medication; the Supreme Court recently agreed to take up the case.

Durbin also continues to call for the passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act¸ which would codify access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive health care rights.

Curbing the gun violence epidemic

Building on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), which was signed into law in 2022, Durbin and the Senate Judiciary Committee continued to advocate for commonsense, popular solutions to end the gun violence epidemic. While BSCA was a starting point for gun reform, Durbin is a staunch advocate for additional gun safety measures.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in NYSPA v. Bruen,Durbin held a full committee hearing on public safety and gun safety laws in a post-Bruen America, and filed an amicus brief in U.S. v. Rahimi, urging the Court to uphold the prohibition on gun possession by individuals subject to domestic violence protection orders.

In September, Durbin introduced the Stop Arming Cartels Act, which would stem the “iron river” of firearms trafficking from the United States to Mexico, which is enabled by weak American gun laws and gun industry practices. This month, Durbin led a letter, joined by 16 Senate colleagues, in support of ATF’s proposed rule to require gun dealers to perform background checks on individuals who purchase firearms.

Additionally, Durbin and Senate Judiciary Democrats continue to highlight Senate Republicans’ allegiance to the gun lobby at the expense of public safety. In December, Durbin and Senate Democrats took to the Senate floor to attempt to pass the Assault Weapons Ban, an effort which Senate Republicans blocked. In June, Senate Republicans attempted to repeal a vital gun safety regulation under the National Firearms Act, an effort which Durbin opposed and which fortunately failed on the Senate floor.

Durbin continues to meet with public health experts, advocates, researchers, government officials, and other community stakeholders about ways to end the scourge of gun violence. In November, Durbin held a hearing on gun violence as a public health crisis in coordination with physicians and public health experts; the hearing examined efforts like Durbin’s Chicago HEAL Initiative, which is a collaboration with 10 of the largest hospitals in Chicago to address the root causes of gun violence through economic, health, and community projects in 18 of Chicago’s neighborhoods with the highest rates of violence, poverty, and health disparities.

Spearheading criminal justice reform

Durbin, Booker, and the Senate Judiciary Committee celebrated the fifth anniversary of the First Step Act, the most important criminal justice reform legislation in a generation. The legislation’s reforms have been tremendously successful. Of the 29,944 incarcerated adults released under First Step Act reforms through January 2023, only 12.4 percent have been arrested for new crimes. By comparison, the overall BOP recidivism rate currently stands at around 43 percent. To date, there have been 3,980 retroactive sentence reductions and 4,639 compassionate release motions granted.

Continuing his efforts to improve the criminal justice system, Durbin has introduced the:

As the lead author of the Dream Act, Durbin has been a champion forbipartisan immigration reform for years. This Congress, he reintroduced the bipartisan Dream Act of 2023 with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

In addition, Durbin introduced bipartisan legislation to improve lawful pathways to the United States, including the:

  • H-1 and L-1 Visa Reform Act with Senator Grassley (R-IA) to reform and close loopholes in the H-1B and L-1 visa programs;
  • Keep Stem Talent Act with Senator Rounds (R-SD) to streamline the path for advanced Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) international graduates who studied at our nation’s universities to remain in the United States; and
  • Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act with Senator Cramer (R-ND) to quickly address our nation’s shortage of doctors and nurses.

As Republican Governors continue to engage in political stunts and exploit migrant families, Durbin has pressed for additional federal resources to best support and integrate more than 28,000 migrants who have arrived in Chicago. In February, Durbin urged the Biden Administration to facilitate better coordination between the federal government and local communities and to improve migrant processing at our southwest border. Durbin also urged the Biden Administration to allow states to sponsor workers to meet their urgent workforce needs, a request echoed by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson.

In May, the Committee held a hearing to highlight how immigrant workers are essential to put food on our tables, the need forimmigration reform to help American farms and businesses, and the importance of protections and fair wages for both domestic and immigrant workers.

In July, Durbin led a request to Secretary Mayorkas to redesignate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuela and Nicaragua, which would provide nationals of those countries in the United States with stability and eligibility for a work permit. The Biden Administration heeded these calls and extended TPS to nearly 400,000 Venezuelan migrants in September. In November, Durbin led a bicameral request signed by over 100 Senators and Representatives to the Biden Administration to designate the Palestinian territories forTPS and/or authorize Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) forPalestinians already present in the United States, to permit them to remain in the United States and work while unable to return safely. 

Additionally, Durbin has announced support for increased funding forboth U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Executive Office for Immigration Review, both of which have significant asylum backlogs, in both the Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations cycle andhis Border Management, Security, and Assistance Act of 2023.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s eight Subcommittees held numerous important hearings on matters under the Committee’s jurisdiction.

The Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, chaired by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), held five hearings on topics ranging from digital advertising and algorithms to competition in housing markets.

The Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights, chaired by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), held three hearings on subjects including bankruptcy reform and judicial ethics, including on his Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act of 2023.

The Subcommittee on Human Rights, chaired by Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA), launched an investigation into the abuse and neglect of children in foster care, holding a series of four hearings on the topic. Additionally, the Subcommittee held a hearing on the human rights implications of artificial intelligence.

The Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, chaired by Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), held two hearings, one on the status of our nation’s immigration courts and the other on bolstering our refugee admissions program.

The Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, chaired by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), held six hearings on topics ranging from the PREVAIL Act and patent innovation to a two-part series on artificial intelligence.

The Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, chaired by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), held five hearings on topics ranging from social media and the teen mental health crisis, featuring testimony from a Meta whistleblower, to a series of hearings on artificial intelligence.

Thank you to Chairs Blumenthal, Booker, Butler, Coons, Klobuchar, Ossoff, Padilla, and Whitehouse for their hard work leading their respective subcommittees.

To you and yours: Happy holidays and a joyous New Year!