Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), who is interested in serving as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee now that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) has stepped down from the role, said he expects the Democratic caucus to decide the future leadership of the committee.

Whitehouse says he will accept whatever his colleagues decide.

"In the wake of Ranking Member Feinstein's announcement, I look forward to the question of succession on the Senate Judiciary Committee being decided by the caucus. I will abide by the caucus's decision," he said in a statement, indicating interest in the job.

Whitehouse, however, would have to leapfrog Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is more senior, to serve as the ranking member on the panel. 

Durbin said Monday that he will seek to replace Feinstein as the committee Democrat with more seniority, Sen. Pat Leahy (Vt.), is already the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

"I intend to seek the top Democratic position on the Judiciary Committee in the 117th Congress. I have served on the committee for 22 years and I am its most senior member who does not currently serve atop another Senate committee," he said. 

"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 said.

Some Senate Democrats are questioning whether Durbin should be able to serve as both the Senate minority whip and the top-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Some members of the Democratic caucus want there to be more power sharing.

Durbin's allies, however, are pointing out that there is no caucus rule preventing Durbin from serving as both whip and top Democrat on Judiciary and note there is precedent for serving as the No. 2 Senate Democratic leader and heading a committee.

Late Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) served as both Senate majority whip and chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Late Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.) served as Democratic whip and the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee in the 1990s. 

Former Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) briefly headed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee while also serving as Democratic whip in 2001.

Feinstein announced Monday she would not seek to serve as chairwoman or ranking Democrat on the Judiciary panel in 2021 so she could focus on addressing drought and wildfire damage in California.