[JURIST] Newly-declared Democratic Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) [official website] was appointed chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs [official website] on Thursday. Specter received [press release] that post from Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) [official website] who voluntarily gave up his position as chairman and is expected to head a newly created subcommittee on human rights and the law [press release]. For his part, Specter, a former Philadelphia District Attorney, now has "jurisdiction over the Department of Justice, the US Sentencing commission, federal programs under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, criminal justice and victim's rights legislation, and oversight of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the US Secret Service." Specter formerly served as ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website].
After his switch from the Republican party to the Democrats, Senate Republicans appointed [JURIST report] conservative Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) [official website] to serve as ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. Sessions, a former US attorney whose 1986 nomination to a federal court post was blocked [Washington Post report] because of allegations of racism, is expected to play a leading role in the upcoming Supreme Court nomination hearings to replace retiring Justice David Souter [JURIST report]. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] has said that he hopes to have the new Supreme Court justice confirmed [JURIST report] before the start of the Court's October 2009 term.