Feinstein given key role vetting Trump's Supreme Court nominee

Feinstein given key role vetting Trump's Supreme Court nominee
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Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community Trump remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push MORE of California will take over as the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee next year, giving her a high-profile role in the vetting of President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

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The court has had a vacancy since February, when the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died. The court is now split 4-4 between liberal and conservative justices.

Feinstein said in a statement Wednesday that she will pay “close attention” to Trump’s nominees after Republicans blocked President Obama’s pick, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland.

“After the unprecedented and disrespectful treatment of Merrick Garland — a moderate judge who should have been quickly confirmed — the committee will pay very close attention to proposed nominees to ensure the fundamental constitutional rights of Americans are protected,” she said in a statement.

She will be the first woman and senator from California to serve as ranking member of the committee.

Feinstein could be the top Democrat on Judiciary during as many as three Supreme Court confirmation hearings over the course of Trump’s term, court watchers say.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, aged 68, and center-right Justice Anthony Kennedy, aged 80, are candidates for retirement. Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 years old and battled cancer a few years ago.

Trump has said he will nominate justices who favor restricting abortion rights and if he appoints several in that mold, the landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, which established women’s abortion rights, could be overturned.

The Judiciary Committee will also hold hearings on Trump’s pick to serve as attorney general.

The new position gives Feinstein, an outspoken advocate of gun control, more influence over that issue. Legislation to expand background checks for firearm purchases falls under the Judiciary panel’s jurisdiction.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOn The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill Trump's border funding comes back from the dead MORE of Vermont, who served as chairman and the ranking Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee during President Obama’s administration, has decided to take the senior Democratic slot on the Appropriations Committee.

Feinstein said it was “an honor and a privilege to follow in the footsteps of Sen. Leahy.”