Susan Estrich: The twilight of a legend of Congress

From the commentary: Feinstein has had a distinguished career of vigorous leadership. She should be remembered as such a leader. There is no honor in limping across a finish line.

U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) announces she will not seek re-election in Washington
U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who announced she will not be seeking re-election, leaves the Senate floor after a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 14, 2023.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Dianne Feinstein, now 89 years old, has been a legend in California politics since the day she stepped in to serve as mayor of San Francisco when her predecessor was shot and killed. She has served her city, her state and her country with courage and distinction. She has been that rare combination of a rock star presence who also got the work done — a high-profile senator who was also known for taking care of business at home, for constituent service, for hard work in the Senate, for doing it all.

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Susan Estrich commentary
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But the time has come for her to step aside. The time has come and passed. Earlier this year, she stepped aside from her role as the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. She has been absent for the last month with shingles and, under pressure, has now asked for a temporary replacement when the committee returns from recess. This week, two House members, including one from California, called on her to resign so that someone could be appointed to fulfill her term.

Feinstein has already announced that after 30 years in the Senate, she will not seek reelection in 2024. The question is whether she is well enough to complete her term. The answer seems painfully clear.

The twilight of a legend is a time to say thank you.

Dianne Feinstein has served California and her country with amazing distinction. It is time for her to step aside. Her increasing difficulties should not become a political issue, nor should they define her legacy.


Technically, the question now is whether the Republicans will go along with the idea of a temporary replacement for Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee. It shouldn't come to that. There is a dignified way to handle this situation, and the dignified way is for Feinstein to resign and for California Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint a replacement to serve in her stead. That might create political issues: Does he choose one of the contenders or pick a "safe" placeholder who is not a contender for the seat? But those are issues for him to deal with, not for her.

There are other, more pressing issues facing the Judiciary Committee: not just the confirmation of judicial appointees, but questions about the availability of medicated abortion in this country as well as the ethics of Supreme Court justices, a question raised by revelations of expensive trips and real estate transactions financed by undisclosed gifts to Justice Clarence Thomas. The Senate Judiciary Committee needs to be at full and permanent strength to deal with these issues. Feinstein is in no shape to participate in the coming hearings, as she herself has recognized in asking for a replacement.

Feinstein has had a distinguished career of vigorous leadership. She should be remembered as such a leader. There is no honor in limping across a finish line.

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This Susan Estrich commentary is her opinion. She can be reached at


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Opinion by Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich is an American lawyer, professor, author, political operative, and political commentator. She can be reached via
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