Movement of a bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act was stalled today by partisan tension over judicial nominees.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to consider amendments to the bill, which finances most operations of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and six other bills. But committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called the meeting to recess because only one Republican, Arlen Specter (Pa.), was present.
Eight committee members must attend a meeting to conduct business, and two must be members of the minority party.
Other Republican members did not attend the meeting because federal district and appeals court nominees have not been placed on the agenda for committee meetings.
"The Republicans have decided not to show up," Leahy announced to a committee room teeming with juvenile justice advocates. He said he believed the decision was "not responsible, but it is their prerogative."
"I started hearing yesterday" that Republicans may not show for the meeting, said Liz Ryan, who co-chairs Act 4 Juvenile Justice (ACT4JJ), the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition's campaign to coordinate advocacy organizations' efforts to build a favorable reauthorization bill.
That did not stop Ryan or a throng of others interested in bills on the agenda from lining up for hours for a chance to attend the meeting. Many members of the ACT4JJ campaign had spent the previous night crafting positions on a number of amendments to the bill, and were visibly disappointed by the call for recess.
"I probably sent 300 e-mails last night," said Mark Soler, president of the Youth Law Center.
Among the amendments the campaign opposed: Sen. Jeff Sessions' (R-Ala.) proposal to remove incentive grants, and those by Sens. Sessions and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that called for extensive evaluation of OJJDP by the Government Accountability Office.
"We want accountability [at OJJDP], there's no doubt about that," Ryan said. "But we don't want to have any sort of study done in a way that undermines OJJDP's role."
Asked if she thought the proposed evaluation might question the need for the agency, she says, "That's our read of the amendment."
The committee may revisit the bill next week or on July 31, but it is uncertain what will change if the fight over judicial nominees continues.