President Obama’s intended nominee for the Montgomery-based Middle District of Alabama is all vetted and ready to go. But you didn’t see white collar criminal defense lawyer Joe Van Heest on the list of new nominees released by the White House Friday.
The reason: Objections from Republican Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), two Democrats close to the nominating process recently told me.
As a result, controversial U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, whose office prosecuted former Gov. Don Siegelman (D) on political corruption charges, will likely cling to office a bit longer while the Shelby spat gets sorted out.
Shelby’s office didn’t return phone calls seeking comment. A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, declined to comment. Van Heest, who practices in Montgomery, did not respond to a request for comment.
As far as we can tell, Shelby’s goal isn’t to prolong the tenure of Canary, who hasn’t taken the hint and resigned yet. Canary, of course, is accused of helping send the popular Siegelman to prison on bogus charges so he couldn’t run for office again. Canary is married to GOP political operative Bill Canary, who was reportedly close to Karl Rove.
Rather, Shelby’s objections appear to be related to his campaign to promote the daughter of a political supporter for the job, Alabama Democrats say.
Shelby has backed Anna Clark Morris for the position, Alabama officials and lawyers have told me. Morris is an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Middle District office and the daughter of influential trial lawyer Larry Morris, the Shelby supporter.
Morris, of Morris, Haynes & Hornsby in Birmingham, also has built good relations with both Democrats and Republicans. And Shelby, of course, is himself is a former Democrat and a trial lawyer.
A local Democratic patronage committee had recommended Anna Clark Morris for the job, but according to a high-ranking Democratic official with knowledge of the process, she hasn’t been vetted by the White House and won’t be nominated.
Another name floated for the position is Montgomery Presiding Circuit Court Judge Charles Price. Price is African American and would add diversity (Van Heest is white). But Price isn’t a contender, Democrats close to the process tell me, despite Price’s recent quotes in this piece in the Montgomery Independent suggesting he’s interested.
Van Heest was the second choice for the Middle District put forward by Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who as the state’s senior congressional Democrat has been making recommendations to the White House. Davis’s first choice for the job was former federal prosecutor Michel Nicrosi, now in the corporate compliance and white collar defense section of Jones Walker in Mobile. But both Shelby and Alabama’s other Republican senator, Jeff Sessions, objected to Nicrosi, and the White House eliminated her from contention weeks ago. Read our previous report on Nicrosi here.
The odd thing about the Van Heest nomination is how defential the White House is apparently being to Shelby. We know the White House doesn’t want any controversy (ie: no senatorial “blue slips” filed against their nominees.) But in Van Heest, the administration has a guy who’s ready to go – and who would replace one of the bête noires of the Left. The George W. Bush White House would have just rolled any Democrats who tried to object to their nominees – and they didn’t have a 60-vote supermajority in 2001.