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In 1813, in response to an increasing workload and pending legislation regarding judicial proceedings in the courts of the United States, the US House of Representatives established a standing committee that it called the House Committee on the Judiciary. The House Judiciary Committee, as it is more commonly known, has a wide range of responsibilities, including proposed amendments to the US Constitution, impeachments of federal officials, and issues relating to crime and national security. In addition, any proposed legislation carrying civil or criminal penalties may be referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
The membership of the House Judiciary Committee is drawn from the House of Representatives, with the majority of members from the same party that controls the House. The selection process is political, with the Speaker of the House having the final say, but the desires of members are usually taken into account whenever possible. Since the committee’s business often deals with strictly legal issues, though, representatives with a legal background are more likely to be selected than others.
The House Judiciary Committee is one of the more visible committees of the US Congress, often holding hearings on dramatic issues of the day. For example, it was the House Judiciary Committee that drew up articles of impeachment against Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, and had passed three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon when he resigned the office in 1974. The House Judiciary Committee also held hearings into President Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon later that year.
There are five subcommittees of the House Judiciary Committee, covering such areas as the Constitution, immigration, the judicial system, crime and terrorism, and the Internet, as well as laws relating to intellectual property, including patents and copyrights. The committee's efforts during the first years of the 21st century culminated in the Patent Reform Act of 2007, which was the first substantive review and reform of the nation’s patent system in more than 50 years.
The committee’s jurisdiction is set not by the Constitution, which is actually silent on the question of legislative committees, but by the House itself, in accordance with the Constitution’s charge that each house of the Congress set its own rules. The committee’s jurisdiction has grown in the years since it was established, and it has been instrumental in enacting landmark legislation, including such diverse areas as anti-trust law, bankruptcy, civil liberties and presidential succession. It was the House Judiciary Committee that performed the bulk of the work on the House side of crafting and passing the PATRIOT Act in 2001.
In addition, like many other Congressional committees in both the House and the Senate, it has oversight responsibilities for departments within the Executive Branch, specifically the departments of Justice and Homeland Security. These responsibilities include reviewing the departments’ activities and budget requests, but not approving the president’s selections for the secretaries and their principal assistants; this task reserved for the Senate.
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