Biden was a longtime member of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
While chairman, Biden presided over two of the most contentious U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings in history, Robert Bork's in 1987 and Clarence Thomas's in 1991. In the Bork hearings, he stated his opposition to Bork soon after the nomination, reversing his approval in an interview of a hypothetical Bork nomination he had made the previous year and angering conservatives who thought he could not conduct the hearings fairly. At the close, he won praise for conducting the proceedings fairly and with good humor and courage, despite his presidential campaign's collapse in the middle of them.] Rejecting some of the less intellectually honest arguments that other Bork opponents were making, Biden framed his discussion around the belief that the U.S. Constitution provides rights to liberty and privacy that extend beyond those explicitly enumerated in the text, and that Bork's strong originals was ideologically incompatible with that view. Bork's nomination was rejected in the committee by a 9 to 5 vote, and then rejected in the full Senate, 58 to 42
In the Thomas hearings, Biden's questions on constitutional issues were often long and convoluted, to the point that Thomas sometimes forgot the question being asked. Biden's style annoyed many viewers.
Thomas later wrote that despite Biden's earlier private assurances, his questions had been akin to bean balls. The nomination came out of the committee without a recommendation, with Biden opposed. In part due to his own bad experiences with his presidential campaign, Biden was reluctant to let personal matters into the hearings. He initially shared with the committee, but not the public, Anita Hill's sexual harassment charges, on the grounds she was not yet willing to testify. After she did, Biden did not permit other witnesses to testify further on her behalf, such as Angela Wright (who was present, waiting to testify, and who had made a similar charge) and experts on harassment. Biden said he was striving to preserve Thomas's right to privacy and the hearings' decency. The full Senate confirmed Thomas by a 52 to 48 vote, with Biden again opposed. During and afterward, liberal legal groups and women's groups strongly criticized Biden for mishandling the hearings and not doing enough to support Hill. Biden later sought out women to serve on the Judiciary Committee and emphasized women's issues in the committee's legislative agenda. In April 2019, he called Hill to express regret over how he treated her; after the conversation, Hill said she remained deeply unsatisfied.
Biden was involved in crafting many federal crime laws. He spearheaded the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, also known as the Biden Crime Law, which included the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004 after its ten-year sunset period and was not renewed. It also included the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which contains a broad array of measures to combat domestic violence. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Morrison that the VAWA section allowing a federal civil remedy for victims of gender-motivated violence exceeded Congress's authority and was therefore unconstitutional. Congress reauthorized VAWA in 2000 and 2005. Biden has said, "I consider the Violence Against Women Act the single most significant legislation that I've crafted during my 35-year tenure in the Senate." In 2004 and 2005, he enlisted major American technology companies in diagnosing the problems of the Austin, Texas-based National Domestic Violence Hotline, and to donate equipment and expertise to it in a successful effort to improve its services.
Biden was critical of the actions of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr during the 1990s Whitewater controversy and Lewinsky scandal investigations, and said, "it's going to be a cold day in hell" before another Independent Counsel would be granted the same powers. He voted to acquit on both charges during the impeachment of President Clinton.
As chairman of the International Narcotics Control Caucus, Biden wrote the laws that created the U.S. "Drug Czar", who oversees and coordinates national drug control policy. In April 2003, he introduced the Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act. He continued to work to stop the spread of "date rape drugs" such as flunitrazepam, and party drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine. In 2004, he worked to pass a bill outlawing steroids like androstenedione, the drug many baseball players used.
Biden's "Kids 2000" legislation established a public-private partnership to provide computer centers, teachers, Internet access, and technical training to young people, particularly low-income and at-risk youth.
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