This story has been corrected.
The White House is prepared to announce nominees for most of the remaining U.S. Attorney positions that haven’t yet been filled in the Barack Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday.
Speaking with Main Justice Editor-in-Chief Mary Jacoby in his 5th floor conference room, Holder said vetting is complete on most of the positions, including a replacement for controversial Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, a George W. Bush appointee who has held onto her job for two years under Obama.
Holder also said three U.S. Attorney nominees who were returned to the White House in December after the Senate failed to act on them before adjourning will be renominated. The returned U.S. Attorney nominees were S. Amanda Marshall of Oregon, M. Scott Bowen of the Western District of Michigan and Thomas Gray Walker of the Eastern District of North Carolina. John B. Stevens Jr. of the Eastern District of Texas, who was also returned, removed his name from consideration.
The U.S. Attorney positions where no nominee has been announced are in the Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi, Utah, Northern District of Oklahoma, and three other districts in Texas.
Down in Alabama, Canary drew the ire of many Democrats for what they perceived to be a politically motivated prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D).
The White House vetted and then dropped at least two other candidates for the Canary’s job – Michel Nicrosi, who went on to run unsuccessfully last year for Alabama attorney general; and defense attorney Joe Van Heest of Montgomery. Push-back from Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R), who backed another candidate, was a factor that slowed down the process.
“I expect we’ll have an announcement,” Holder said of Canary’s replacement.
The nomination process was similarly gummed up in Mississippi, where a slew of candidates in the Republican stronghold were considered and dropped; and in Utah, where career prosecutor David Schwendiman was recommended to Obama by Utah Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson but was dropped from consideration without explanation.
The most difficult state to fill has been Texas, where Republican Sen. John Cornyn has been in a fight with Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett over control of the recommendation process. By tradition, a state’s senators recommend candidates to the White House. But when both senators in a state are from the opposite party of the president, the state’s Democratic House members can hold sway.
Although Texas is one of the most populous states in the nation, Obama has been unable to break the partisan impasse there, and two years into his term, none of the four districts has a Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney.
Holder blamed the slow nominating process on a variety of factors. At first, some senators moved slowly in making recommendations to the White House, and then the Senate often failed to act on nominees for months once they were made.
Holder also acknowledged that the White House also wasn’t as swift in making nominations as it could have been, while some critics said the administration was showing too much deference to Republicans in making choices. “That’s been dealt with now,” Holder said.
The top federal prosecuting jobs in two territories also don’t have Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorneys. Ronald W. Sharpe, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia, was appointed by a court in 2009 to serve as U.S. Attorney in the Virgin Islands; and Rosa E. Rodriguez-Velez is the non-Senate confirmed U.S. Attorney in Puerto Rico.
This story has been corrected to reflect that three, not four of the U.S. Attorney nominees who were returned to the White House in December after the Senate failed to act on them before adjourning will be renominated. U.S. Attorney nominee John B. Stevens Jr. of the Eastern District of Texas, whom the Senate returned to the White House in December, removed his name from consideration.