More significant for California, Feinstein was granted her first choice for a seat on the highly coveted Committee on Appropriations. The panel controls the purse strings of the Senate and traditionally steers lucrative federal projects to the home states of its members.
"I'm very pleased," Feinstein said in an interview. "This gives me the opportunity to see that California gets its fair share of dollars. I can be the watchdog for California with respect to the appropriations process."
California's other newly elected Democratic senator, Barbara Boxer, was named to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, an assignment she pursued in an effort to help revive California's ailing economy. The Banking Committee's jurisdiction includes financial aid to commerce and industry, public and private housing programs, mass transit and export controls.
Boxer, who also was named to the Committee on Environment and Public Works, was the only woman and first-year senator who participated in the committee selection process this week by Democratic leaders. The assignments announced Wednesday by the Democratic Steering Committee must be ratified by the full Democratic Caucus, but such approval is considered a formality.
The appointment of two women to the Judiciary Committee caps a year of significant political gains for women who protested the panel's handling of the controversial Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings in the fall of 1991.
"It's extraordinarily wonderful news," said Judith Lichtman, president of the Washington-based Women's Legal Defense Fund. "Never again will the legal rights of women be considered only by white men. The Senate Judiciary Committee finally begins to look like the diverse, great nation we are."
Feinstein and Boxer were among four successful women candidates for the Senate whose campaigns received a boost from women who believed the Judiciary panel was insensitive in its handling of sexual harassment allegations Hill made against Thomas. Despite the charges, the committee and the full Senate voted to confirm Thomas to a seat on the Supreme Court.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, vowed to get two women appointed to his panel while courting both California senators.
Both Feinstein and Boxer told Biden they would be willing to serve on his committee, which in addition to approving federal judicial appointments oversees the Department of Justice and writes legislation pertaining to criminal laws.
Moseley Braun's selection came somewhat as a surprise because her fellow Illinois Democrat, Sen. Paul Simon, already serves on the committee. She had said earlier Wednesday she preferred a seat on Appropriations.
Feinstein said she regards her Judiciary appointment as another historic step for the advancement of women in national politics. "It was clear to me that part of the symbolism of the Year of the Woman was the (Thomas-Hill hearings) held by the all-male Judiciary Panel. And that now is gone for all time," she said.
But Feinstein quickly pointed out that she considers her Judiciary selection a substantive appointment as well.
"For me, it is an opportunity to work on something I care very much about--the crime bill," she said. "It was a big part of my campaign. It is an opportunity to deliver more police. I feel very strongly that crime is an issue of major importance in California. If you don't have your safety, you don't have anything."
Among her priorities, Feinstein said, will be to provide more federal funding to hire police officers in Los Angeles.
When senators were initially asked to submit their top committee choices in November, Feinstein listed Appropriations first and Judiciary second. It appeared she might not get Appropriations, however, when committee Chairman Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) indicated he wanted to shrink the size of the committee and accept no first-year senators. With 29 members, the Appropriations panel is by far the largest in the Senate.
Chairmen and Democratic members were selected for 12 major committees, with membership on more than a half-dozen smaller panels still undecided. The only chairmanship to change will be on the Finance Committee, where Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) is slated to replace Lloyd Bentsen, the Texas Democrat nominated as secretary of the Treasury. Republicans have not yet made their committee assignments.
In addition to Boxer, three new senators--Murray, Moseley Braun and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D-Colo.)--were selected to the Banking Committee.
Boxer's appointment to Banking was somewhat ironic given the criticism she endured during her Senate campaign for writing 143 overdrafts during the House Bank scandal. Boxer was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but said in a statement she intends to utilize her banking post to help rebuild American cities.
A longtime environmental advocate, Boxer was the only Democrat added to the Environment Committee.
"With the departure of (Vice President-elect) Albert Gore and (former Colorado Sen.) Tim Wirth, the Senate has lost two great voices for environmental protection," Boxer said. "I look forward to continuing their work in the Senate. This committee is especially important to California because of the emergence of environmental cleanup as a strong growth industry and the crucial need to protect our air, water and oceans."
Times staff writer James Bornemeier contributed to this report.