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Democrats, as widely expected, wrested control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans, after 12 years of Republican rule, in elections across the country Tuesday, setting the stage for a series of intensive investigations of the Bush administration by several different House committees. But it appears Democrats also carried the Senate � radically changing the politics of federal judge-picking as well � and that victory was something of a surprise, even to them. As of Wednesday afternoon, Democrat James Webb had claimed victory in the Virginia Senate race over incumbent Sen. George Allen, but a recount that could take several weeks appeared likely. If Webb is indeed the winner, Democrats will have a 51-49 edge. “There just wasn’t a firm sense this would happen,” says a senior Democratic staffer. “It could have been as few as two pickups,” the staffer adds, referring to previously Republican seats won by Democrats. “But six was at the high end.” The Democratic Senate victory, assuming it holds, could also have profound implications for the next Supreme Court pick, if 86-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens dies or resigns, or another justice resigns or falls ill, during the last two years of the Bush administration . “The biggest thing [about the Democratic takeover] is judges,” notes David Hoppe, former chief of staff to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). “Everything else has a way of working itself out,” adds Hoppe, now a lobbyist at Quinn Gillespie & Associates. By midday Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats had already plunged into discussions over the agenda they planned to carry out in their expected majority status. If they are indeed the majority, then when the 110th Congress begins in January, the Senate Judiciary Committee will be led by Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, a 32-year veteran who had previously chaired the committee for 18 months, from mid-2001 until just after the 2002 elections, after the departure of Vermont’s James Jeffords from the Republican Party. Legislatively, the changes between a Leahy-controlled committee and the current committee, under Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), shouldn’t be that extreme; the men are relatively close ideologically. The major difference will be the politically contentious issue of federal judges, especially federal circuit judges, as well as a possible Supreme Court replacement. At the very least, a Democratically controlled Senate Judiciary Committee would make it unlikely that President George W. Bush’s most conservative choices will even get out of the committee. That would leave Bush with two choices: He could pick more moderate conservatives that would pass Democratic muster, or he could pick highly conservative judges who would not get a majority committee vote, a choice that would give the Republicans’ ultraconservative base an energizing issue. That strategy may be difficult, however, in the event there is a Supreme Court replacement, notes Hoppe. “If there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, it will be harder to say, �Gee, golly, I won’t fill it,’ ” he says. In both the Senate and House, Democratic majorities will almost certainly translate into one major change: more oversight. The Senate Judiciary Committee will revisit the lack of habeas corpus rights for Guant�namo Bay detainees, the administration’s warrantless surveillance program, and patent reform, according to lobbyists who follow the committee. In the House Judiciary Committee, the gavel will move to Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a mercurial veteran who on Tuesday was elected to his 21st House term. Conyers’ staff were in meetings all day Wednesday, so a future agenda for the upcoming majority staff was difficult to determine. But Conyers will certainly share certain oversight duties with Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who will chair the House Committee on Government Reform. That committee, which was expanded during the years of the Clinton impeachment, has maintained a large staff. And Waxman has a reputation as an aggressive investigator. While in the minority, Waxman has continued to produce investigative reports; one of the most recent, documenting the links between ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the Bush White House, resulted in the resignation of Susan Ralston, then a White House aide to Karl Rove. T.R. Goldman can be contacted at [email protected]

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