- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday opened its work in the new Congress with a scheduling glitch that delayed a slew of judicial nominations and the formal introduction of a bill to overhaul the nation’s patent system.

Republicans on the panel obtained a delay because the final membership of the committee was still being formalized. Freshmen Sens. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, and Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, were named officially to the panel later in the day.

A clearly exasperated Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, agreed to the postponement but said it was “demeaning” to nominees when they are going to pass the vetting process anyway. He pointed out that one of the nominees, James E. Graves Jr., for the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court, is backed by Mississippi GOP Gov. Haley Barbour.

“I’m disappointed,” Mr. Leahy said to Sen. Charles E. Grassley and other Republicans on the committee. “I’ll let you call Gov. Barbour and explain why that didn’t happen.”

Lawmakers said that patent reform, which would be the first major revision in a half-century, appears to have bipartisan support in both chambers and from President Obama.

“Patent reform will be the focal point of this session,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican.

Mr. Leahy said he wants the committee to start its legislative agenda with the patent reform bill and build on progress made in the previous Congress.

“A strong patent system will encourage American innovation, protect investors and make America more competitive,” he said. “It leads to new businesses and more jobs.”

Mr. Lee, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., takes the seat of Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican. Mr. Blumenthal was Connecticut’s attorney general before being elected in 2010.

In another measure likely to be before the committee soon, Mr. Leahy has introduced a bill to extend expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, first passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The “Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011,” introduced Wednesday, would extend anti-terrorism law enforcement and intelligence techniques through December 2013. The provisions now are set to expire at the end of February.

“It will also promote transparency and expand privacy and civil liberties safeguards in current law,” Mr. Leahy said in a statement. “It increases judicial oversight of government surveillance powers that capture information on Americans.”

The extension would also move to improve oversight of intelligence-gathering tools and allow a phasing out of administrative subpoenas that the FBI uses to obtain evidence without a court order.

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