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A Look at Trump's First Wave of United States Attorney Nominations

On June 12, 2017, President Donald Trump made his first nominations of prospective United States Attorneys. The eight lawyers he nominated are:

  • Jay E. Town, an Assistant District Attorney in the Madison County, Alabama, District Attorney’s Office, to be the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.

  • Louis V. Franklin, Jr., an Assistant United States Attorney in the Middle District of Alabama, to be the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. 

  • Richard W. Moore, the Inspector General for the Tennessee Valley Authority, to be the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. 

  • Jessie K. Liu, the Deputy General Counsel for the United States Department of the Treasury, to be the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.

  • Justin E. Herdman, a partner in the Cleveland office of Jones Day, to be the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. 

  • Brian J. Kuester, the District Attorney of Oklahoma’s 27th Judicial District, to be the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. 

  • D. Michael Dunavant, the District Attorney General of Tennesse’’s 25th Judicial District, to be the United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.

  • John W. Huber, the current United States Attorney for the District of Utah, to remain the United States Attorney for the District of Utah.

A brief summary of the nominations procedure: Presidential nominations for United States Attorney (or judicial) positions in the federal court system’s 94 districts are typically made after both Senators from a nominee’s home state have returned the “blue slip” indicating approval of the nominee. The nominee will then be vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee before moving to the full Senate for confirmation.

Six of Trump’s eight nominees come from states with two Republican Senators – states where “blue slips” likely were easier to come by than states where one or both Senators are Democrats. Mr. Huber’s renomination in Utah is not out of the ordinary – former President Obama renominated a number of former President Bush’s United States Attorneys, including current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of Maryland, with the approval of those nominees’ home state Senators. Ohio’s Senators – one Democratic, one Republican – had previously announced their bipartisan support of Mr. Herdman, a former prosecutor in the Northern District office. But Ms. Liu does not have any “home state” senators in her capacity as the D.C. nominee – D.C. only has “shadow senators” who do not enjoy the typical Senatorial courtesies like the “blue slip” (or apparently even the use of the Senate elevators).
So what kind of conclusions can you draw about these nominees? The fact that all three Alabama districts were in this first group shows that former Alabama Senator/now Attorney General Jeff Sessions has most likely played a significant role in getting the nominations machinery started. But while it is a small sample size, there are a number of similarities between Trump’s nominees and those of former President Obama. Including the timing of the nominations – despite some negative media coverage about delays, the eight Trump nominations to this point line up fairly closely with Obama’s nine nominations prior to July 2009. Here are a few other areas of consistency that jump out –

  • The Trump nominees average around 26 years of legal experience, compared with the 23 years of experience of the average Obama nominee.

  • Two of the eight Trump nominees (Ms. Liu and Mr. Herdman) have experience working in large law firms, compared with around 20% of the Obama nominees. 

  • All eight Trump nominees have either prior state or federal prosecutorial experience, compared with the more than 80% of Obama nominees who had prosecutorial experience prior to nomination.

There is one notable difference, though: While less than a third of the Obama nominees had prior state prosecutorial experience, five of the eight Trump nominees do. Trump also nominated two elected District Attorneys in this first wave; while three of the more than 100 Obama nominees had some prior experience as an elected or appointed District Attorney, none was serving as the District Attorney at the time of nomination. Court records show that cases involving violent crime are more often handled in state courts than in federal courts. Trump’s nomination of prosecutors who have front line experience where violent crime cases are typically addressed is in keeping with his recent executive order that the Department of Justice will emphasize efforts to combat violent crime.

The pace of these nominations moving forward is anyone’s guess, but if history is any indicator the second half of the year should be busy – around a third of the Obama nominees for these positions came during between July and December 2009.

Copyright © 2022 Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume VII, Number 166

About this Author

Ripley Rand Womble Bond Dickinson Law Firm Criminal Defense Attorney

Ripley Rand brings more than twenty years of federal and state courtroom experience to Womble Carlyle’s White Collar Criminal Defense Team. His practice focuses on white collar criminal defense, health care fraud defense, internal investigations, and regulatory enforcement.

In 2010, Ripley was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the United States Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina. After being unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate, Ripley was the United States Attorney...