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Republican women will sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first time

Marsha Blackburn and Joni Ernst will be the first Republican women to join the powerful Senate panel.

Newly-Elected Senators Are Ceremonially Sworn In Zach Gibson/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

For the first time in its more than 200-year history, the Senate Judiciary Committee will count Republican women among its members. Republicans on Thursday announced that Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) will join the prominent Senate committee, along with first-term Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO).

The committee — which will be led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in the new term — is a notable perch and has jurisdiction over everything from Supreme Court nominees to immigration reform to data privacy.

The lack of Republican women on the committee has been a longstanding problem for the GOP and was most recently thrown into sharp relief when an all-men panel of Republican senators hired woman prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to question Christine Blasey Ford about sexual assault allegations she brought against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Kavanaugh has denied these allegations.)

Former Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley did little to help matters when he said the dearth of Republican women on the committee was due to the fact that women didn’t want to do the work. “It’s a lot of work — maybe they don’t want to do it,” he initially said, ultimately walking these comments back.

In the wake of all this controversy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that adding women to the Judiciary Committee would be a key priority for the party, though he noted that it’s been a challenge to do so in the past. Part of this challenge is likely tied to the lack of Republican women serving in the Senate overall: There are now eight Republican women compared to 17 Democratic ones.

Democratic women have sat on the committee since 1993, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun becoming the first to do so. Four Democratic women: Sens. Feinstein, Amy Klobuchar, Mazie Hirono, and Kamala Harris, are expected to continue serving on the panel in the new term.