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Updated 6:42 p.m.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) announced Friday that he is giving up his longtime perch on the Judiciary Committee.
Kennedy, the second most senior Democrat on the panel, has used his committee assignment to advance his agenda on civil rights, immigration reform and judicial nominations. He has been a prominent player on the fights over judges, leading the liberal opposition to conservative nominees. On the Judiciary panel, he heads an immigration subcommittee.
The 76-year-old liberal has been slowed by chemotherapy for a malignant brain tumor. Kennedy chairs the Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, and will dedicate his energy on health care legislation. Kennedy also serves on the Armed Services Committee, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Sea Power.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has told colleagues that he will enforce a rule limiting full committee chairmen to one subcommittee chairmanship. But Kennedy said he was surrendering his seat on the full panel to make room for newly elected Democrats.
Kennedy released a statement saying he was committed to many issues that he addressed while serving on the Judiciary panel, even though he was giving up his seat.
I have decided to step down from the Senate Judiciary Committee. I do so with great confidence in Chairman [Patrick] Leahy and my current colleagues on the Committee and in the newly-elected Democratic Senators who will reap new opportunities from my stepping down, Kennedy said.
I remain deeply committed to civil rights, equal opportunities and immigration reform, and I will always be involved in those important debates and discussions, he said.