The Committee on the Judiciary has been called the lawyer for the House of Representatives because of its jurisdiction over matters relating to the administration of justice in federal courts, administrative bodies, and law enforcement agencies. Its infrequent but important role in impeachment proceedings has also brought it much attention.
On June 3, 1813, a standing committee on the Judiciary was established by the House of Representatives to consider legislation relating to judicial proceedings. Since that time, the scope of the committee’s concern has expanded to include not only civil and criminal judicial proceedings and Federal courts and judges, but also issues relating to bankruptcy, espionage, terrorism, the protection of civil liberties, constitutional amendments, immigration and naturalization, interstate compacts, claims against the United States, national penitentiaries, Presidential succession, antitrust law, revision and codification of the statutes of the United States, state and territorial boundary lines and patents, copyrights and trademarks. Particularly important in our time is the Committee's oversight responsibility for the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. Hearings on legislation including the Patriot Act have emphasized the Committee on the Judiciary’s continuing pursuit of the appropriate balance between constitutional rights and national security.
Due to the legal nature of the committee’s work it has been customary for members of the committee to have a legal background. In a time of great change and scientific progress an expanding list of issues, including intellectual property, cloning, and the internet, require committee members to possess a wide breadth of knowledge in order to effectively address concerns from these and other new areas.
Any legislation that carries a possibility for criminal or civil penalties can be referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, so its legislative workload is substantial. The committee’s weighty agenda has frequently placed it in a central role in American politics, most notably during its consideration of impeachment charges against presidents of the United States in both 1974 and 1998.