Inertia or Politics: Where are the Texas U.S. Attorneys?
By Andrew Ramonas | March 23, 2011 4:42 pm

Although jockeying over candidates by the state’s congressional delegation has complicated matters, Obama administration officials say the president still intends to make nominations for the four U.S. Attorney positions in Texas.

Responding to concerns raised by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), White House spokesman Reid Cherlin told Main Justice that the administration remains committed to filling the four slots. “This is a priority for us and we hope to nominate candidates soon,” Cherlin said.

With less than two years in his term remaining, President Barack Obama has yet to appoint Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorneys  for the state, leaving the top federal prosecuting jobs in one of the most populous states with temporary appointees. He made one U.S. Attorney nomination for Texas so far, but John B. Stevens Jr. last year withdrew his name from consideration for the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas after the Senate Judiciary Committee stalled on his confirmation.

Cornyn told reporters this month that he hasn’t heard anything definitive about U.S. Attorney nominations for his state. The senator said filling the U.S. Attorney posts isn’t a priority for the Obama administration.

However, a newspaper reported that some progress is being made. The Justice Department has started to vet candidates to fill the four U.S. Attorney jobs, The Dallas Morning News reported this week. But the list of candidates is still broad, according to the newspaper.

The nomination process in Texas has been messy. Traditionally, home-state senators recommend candidates to the White House — unless both of the state’s senators are of different parties than the president. That is the case in Texas, where Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison are Republicans. In such cases, the president often relies on House members who are members of his political party.

In 2009, the state’s senators sent Obama one list and the Texas House Democrats sent him another. Since then, the senators and the House Democrats, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett have battled over who gets to recommend candidates to the White House, providing Obama with only a couple of bipartisan options for the U.S. Attorney posts.

Stevens and Michael McCrum were the only candidates on both the Republican and Democratic lists released to the public and sent to the president in 2009. But McCrum, who was recommended for Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney, withdrew his name from consideration, saying he no longer could wait for the president to send his nomination to the Senate.

In addition to Stevens, the Texas senators suggested the current leader of the Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office, John Malcom Bales, as a candidate for a permanent appointment to that office, which is based in Beaumont. U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Pitman got the senators’ endorsement too, joining McCrum on their list of candidates for the Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is based in San Antonio.

The senators also recommended that Obama nominate Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson to lead the Houston-based Southern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana to take the reins of Dallas-based Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Doggett’s publicly released list in 2009 did not include any candidates for the Northern and Southern districts. But the congressman said last year that he recommended U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan for Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney.

Cornyn has been vocal about his support for Saldana, telling The Dallas Morning News last year that he would “go to the mat” for her. Saldana has faced opposition from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) over concerns about the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s successful public corruption prosecution of former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill (D) and former state Rep. Terri Hodge (D), according to The Dallas Morning News.

Of the 93 U.S. Attorney posts across the country, 17 remain in office because a replacement has not yet been nominated by Obama or confirmed by the Senate.  The president made four U.S. Attorney nominations so far this year. But the Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to consider the nominations.

President George W. Bush had Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney appointees in place at the four Texas U.S. Attorney’s offices by April 2002, a little more than a year after he took office. His job no doubt was made easier by his having served as the state’s governor, making him familiar with the political landscape.

President Bill Clinton had two Senate-confirmed Texas U.S. Attorney appointees in place less than a year after he became president. But the Eastern District of Texas did not get a Senate-confirmed leader appointed by Clinton until fall 1994, and the Western District of Texas didn’t receive one until November 1997, nearly four years after he took office.

The Texas U.S. Attorney posts have not been held by Senate-confirmed appointees since at least April 2009.

Johnny Sutton, whom Bush appointed in 2001, stepped down as Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney in April 2009. John E. Murphy has led the office since then.

Rebecca A. Gregory, whom Bush appointed in 2007, resigned as Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in April 2009. Bales has headed the office since her departure.

Richard Roper, whom Bush appointed in 2004, stepped down as Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in December 2008. James T. Jacks has led the office since then.

Don DeGabrielle, whom Bush appointed in 2006, resigned as Southern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in November 2008. Jose Angel Moreno has headed the office since February 2010.

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4 Comments

  1. bot warble says:

    Give the GOP Sen’s their choices, state citizens forewarned. Any step to aid in Tex secession so it can begin to deal with its problems on its own, with Mexico and U.S. as its neighbors, enhances the quickening. Imagine, it could become a toxic version of a Swiss haven for extractionists, moneylenders and homegrown terrorists!

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