Controversy is heating up about the process for naming U.S. attorneys. Formerly, local district judges made an interim appointment when a vacancy came up. Now, under a provision in the USA PATRIOT Act, the Attorney General can make interim appointments for indefinite periods. U.S. attorneys' selection is questioned, Seattle Times, Jan. 28, 2007.
Critics say the change is a move by the Bush administration to avoid the Senate confirmation process and reward its insiders. The administration replies that the change was to avoid a separation of powers issue.
The controversial interim appointments are people who served in Washington, DC, in the White House, the Justice Department, or (in one case) in Sen. Orrin Hatch's office. A criticism is that they have few ties to the communities they are appointed to serve. The interim appointment in the Western District of Washington, Jeffrey Sullivan, is an exception. He has been serving as the head of the Criminal Division here, and before that was for 27 years the prosecutor in Yakima County (just outside the Western District, but MUCH closer than Washington, DC!).
It is not clear how long Sullivan will hold the top job. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, has asked a panel of local lawyers and law-enforcement officials to identify potential permanent replacements for McKay.Democratic lawmakers have proposed bills that would change the system:
- H. R. 580, "To amend chapter 35 of title 28, United States Code, to provide for a 120-day limit to the term of a United States attorney appointed on an interim basis by the Attorney General, and for other purposes." The administration could still appoint the interim USA, but if an appointment expired, then the district court would appoint someone to serve until the vacancy is filled. Sponsors: Berman, Conyers, Scott.
- S. 214, "Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007." District court would appoint the interim. Sponsors: Feinstein and Leahy.