Wisconsin Lawyer: Capitol Training: Wisconsin Lawyers in Congress 2:

State Bar of Wisconsin

Sign In

News & Pubs Search


    Capitol Training: Wisconsin Lawyers in Congress 2

    Legal training aids Wisconsin's congressional delegates in their work on various committees and across all issues ... from analyzing problems from multiple perspectives to evaluating the effect of laws in the real world. Read what Wisconsin's delegates think lawyers should watch for in the current session.

    Dianne Molvig

    Share This:

    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 76, No. 4, April 2003

    Meet Wisconsin's Congressional Delegates

    Sen. Russ Feingold (D): Serves on the Senate Budget, Foreign Relations, and Judiciary committees, and on the Special Committee on Aging; first elected to U.S. Senate in 1992. Wisconsin office: 1600 Aspen Commons, Middleton, WI 53562-4716, (608) 828-1200 (additional Wisconsin offices listed on Web site). Washington office: 506 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510-4904, (202) 224-5323. Email: senate Russell_Feingold feingold gov feingold Russell_Feingold senate gov. Web site: feingold.senate.gov.

    Education: Harvard University Law School, 1979, with honors. Residence: Middleton, Wis.

    Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D): 2nd Congressional District; serves on the House Budget and Judiciary committees; first elected to U.S. House of Representatives in 1998. Wisconsin office: 10 E. Doty St., Suite 405, Madison, WI 53703, (608) 258-9800. Washington office: 1022 Longworth Bldg., Washington, DC 20515, (202) 225-2906. Email: house tammybaldwin mail gov mail tammybaldwin house gov. Web site: tammybaldwin.house.gov.

    Education: U.W. Law School, 1989. Residence: Madison, Wis.

    Former Rep. Tom Barrett (D): Formerly U.S congressman for the 5th Congressional District (1992-2002); served on the House Energy & Commerce, Judiciary, Banking & Financial Services, and Government Reform & Oversight committees. First elected to U.S. House of Representatives in 1992. Reelected four times. Currently, attorney, Reinhart, Boerner Van Deuren s.c. Mailing address: 100 N. Water St., Suite 2100, Milwaukee WI 53202, (414) 298-8177. Email: com tbarrett reinhartlaw reinhartlaw tbarrett com.

    Education: U.W. Law School, 1980. Residence: Milwaukee, Wis.

    Rep. Mark Green (R): 8th Congressional District; serves on the House Banking and Financial Services, International Relations, Judiciary, and Republican Policy committees; first elected to U.S. House of Representatives in 1998. Wisconsin office: 700 E. Walnut St., Green Bay, WI 54301, (920) 437-1954. Washington office: 1314 Longworth Bldg., Washington, DC 20515, (202) 225-5665. Email: house mark.green mail gov mail mark.green house gov. Web site: www.house.gov/markgreen.

    Education: U.W. Law School, 1987. Residence: Green Bay, Wis.

    Rep. Ron Kind (D): 3rd Congressional District; serves on the House Budget, Education and Work Force, and Resources committees; first elected to U.S. House of Representatives in 1996. Wisconsin office: 205 Fifth Ave. South, Suite 227, La Crosse, WI 54601, ( 608) 782-2558. Washington office: 1406 Longworth Bldg., Washington, DC 20515, (202) 225-5506. Email: house kind mail gov mail kind house gov. Web site: www.house.gov/kind.

    Education: Univ. Minnesota Law School, 1990. Residence: La Crosse, Wis.

    Rep. Tom Petri (R): 6th Congressional District; serves on the House Education and Work Force (vice chair) and Transportation and Infrastructure (vice chair) committees; first elected to U.S. House of Representatives in 1979. Wisconsin office: 490 W. Rolling Meadows Dr., Fond du Lac, WI 54937, (920) 922-1180. Washington office: 2462 Rayburn Bldg., Washington, DC 20515, (202) 225-2476. Email: house Petri mail gov mail Petri house gov. Web site: www.house.gov/petri.

    Education: Harvard University Law School, 1965. Residence: Fond du Lac, Wis.

    Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R): 5th Congressional District; serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee; first elected to U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. Wisconsin office: 120 Bishops Way, Rm. 154, Brookfield, WI 53005-6294, (262) 784-1111. Washington office: 2449 Rayburn Bldg., Washington, DC 20515-4905, (202) 225-5101. Email: house Sensenbrenner mail gov mail Sensenbrenner house gov. Web site: www.house.gov/sensenbrenner.

    Education: U.W. Law School, 1968. Residence: Menomonee Falls, Wis.

    Four Wisconsin Lawyers on Judiciary Committees; Sensenbrenner Chairs

    The committees on the Judiciary in the House and Senate often are described as the lawyers for Congress. As such, these committees grapple with far-ranging legal issues: civil rights, antitrust, criminal justice, intellectual property, terrorism, immigration, and more.

    In the committees' histories, Wisconsin lawyers have figured prominently. John Jenkins was the House Judiciary Committee chair from 1903 to 1909. Alexander Wiley served as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1947 to 1949 and was a committee member for more than two decades. And Robert Kastenmeier sat on the House Judiciary Committee for 32 years, from 1959 to 1991, an era that witnessed groundbreaking legislation in such areas as civil rights and copyright laws for the electronic age.

    Today, three Wisconsin attorneys (James Sensenbrenner, Tammy Baldwin, and Mark Green) number among the 37 House Judiciary Committee members, and attorney Russ Feingold serves on the 19-member Senate Judiciary Committee. Sensenbrenner, a 24-year veteran of the House committee and chair since January 2001, is the third Wisconsinite in congressional history to chair either the House or Senate Judiciary Committee.

    Sensenbrenner had been chair only a few months when antiterrorism legislation took center stage shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. He remembers when he first heard about the Justice Department's plan to push for the USA Patriot Act. "I found out about it when I saw Ashcroft on one of the Sunday morning talking-head shows as I was getting out of the shower at my cottage near Oconomowoc," he recalls. "I made a call to John Conyers [the leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee] and said, 'This is big. We ought to work together on this.'"

    Sensenbrenner was determined that the proposed law should go through his committee, rather than being grabbed up by the House leadership. Going through committee is the way the legislative process is supposed to work, he emphasizes. And he believes his committee's product validates the merits of that process.

    "I'm proud of the fact," he says, "that our committee, which has some of the most conservative and libertarian Republicans and some of the most liberal and civil libertarian Democrats, voted out our version of the bill unanimously. We were able to come up with a work product that was considerably better than what the Justice Department originally sent to us." In the end, he adds, the House's bill was more protective of civil liberties than the Senate version, which was hammered out by the then Senate Democratic leadership, rather than in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    Creating the bill was the hardest thing he has ever done in politics, Sensenbrenner says. "The tough part of the USA Patriot Act," he explains, "was attempting to balance the need for improved law enforcement capabilities with the respect for civil liberties that our Constitution enshrines."

    Striking that balance remains the key challenge as the Patriot Act, Homeland Security Act, and other antiterrorism measures are implemented and as new bills, such as a possible second Patriot Act, surface. "These aren't situations when a law passes and you feel sort of gleeful," points out fellow House Judiciary Committee member Green. "You walk back from the Capitol saying, 'Boy, I hope I did the right thing.'"

    Baldwin notes that a key role for the judiciary committees of both houses will be to monitor how these laws become implemented. "Under the leadership of Chairman Sensenbrenner," she says, "our committee has already begun to do that in terms of demanding that the Department of Justice answer a series of questions about their use of their expanded authorities."

    On the Senate side, Feingold says asking those kinds of questions aligns with one of his major reasons for running for Congress in the first place. "I always felt that if I had a chance to be a senator," he says, "that I would want to try, first and foremost, to protect the Constitution, which I consider to be one of the geniuses of our nation. We have to renew our commitment to it every day."

    Tracking the Issues

    Here is the status of issues Wisconsin's congressional delegates are tracking and, where it has taken one, the State Bar's position.

    Medical Malpractice Reform. Legislation introduced under H.R. 5, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2003, makes changes to the health care liability system, including various caps on noneconomic and punitive damages, among other provisions. The legislation would preempt state laws under certain circumstances. H.R. 5 was introduced by Congressman James Greenwood (R-PA) and approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 13 by a vote of 229-196. The State Bar of Wisconsin has a long-standing position in opposition to legislatively set caps on noneconomic damages.

    Bankruptcy Reform. On Feb. 27, 2003, Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced bankruptcy reform legislation, H.R. 975. But for a provision involving the discharge of debts (that is, previously referred to as the Schumer amendment), H.R. 975 virtually mirrors legislation introduced last session in Congress. H.R. 975 passed the House Judiciary Committee on March 12 by an 18-11 vote. The House passed the measure on March 19 by a 315 - 113 vote.

    Gramm-Leach-Bliley. In 2001, banking legislation dubbed "Gramm- Leach-Bliley" was enacted. The new law included a notice provision with which "financial institutions" must comply. The definition of "financial institutions," as interpreted by the Federal Trade Commission, applied to any business "significantly engaged" in activities deemed to be financial in nature, including tax planning and tax return preparation and debt collections among others. The FTC ruling roped in many law firms. Recently introduced legislation under H.R. 781, the Privacy Protection Clarification Act, exempts lawyers from the application of Gramm-Leach-Bliley, Title V. The State Bar of Wisconsin supports exempting lawyers from Gramm-Leach-Bliley. H.R. 781 was introduced by Congresswomen Biggert (R-IL) and Maloney (D-NY) and has been referred to the House Financial Services Committee.

    Death Penalty. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) reintroduced the National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2003 under S. 132. The legislation places a moratorium on the federal death penalty and calls on states to do the same, pending findings by the National Commission on the Death Penalty, established under this legislation. S.132 was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

    Asbestos Litigation. Legislation entitled the Asbestos Claims Criteria and Compensation Act of 2003 was introduced under S. 413 by Sen. Don Nichols (R-OK).

    S. 413, as its purpose statement lays out, "provides for the fair and efficient judicial consideration of personal injury and wrongful death claims arising out of asbestos exposure, to ensure that individuals who suffer harm, now or in the future, from illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos receive compensation for their injuries, and for other purposes." The legislation has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.