Officials in the U.S. Senate and the executive branch increasingly expect the next attorney general to win confirmation in 2015, rather than pushing a candidate through during the lame-duck session of Congress later this year.
The current occupant of the job, Eric Holder, nodded to that likely possibility last week in a conversation at the Washington Ideas Forum in D.C., telling an interviewer he would probably stay until early February, marking six years as the country’s top law enforcement officer.
The White House has yet to announce a replacement for Holder, the first black attorney general. Theoretically, there’s still some time to vet a nominee and push him or her through the Senate Judiciary Committee and on to the full Senate for a floor vote before Christmas.
But the Obama administration is balancing several competing priorities for the lame-duck session, and ramming a nominee through could cost that person some status and legitimacy if Senate control, as expected, shifts into Republican hands early next year.
U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, who’s serving in her second stint as the lead federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, is a leading favorite for the post. Lynch, an African-American, is chairwoman of an important Justice Department committee that advises the attorney general on policy issues.
Lynch has handled or supervised a wide range of cases: from New York police brutality against Haitian immigrant Abner Louima and a $45 million cybertheft involving ATMs to busting old-school Mafia dons. And then there’s the ongoing fraud prosecution of Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York, a onetime FBI agent who, Lynch said, “made the choice to go from upholding the law to breaking it.”
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who earlier in the administration ran the Justice Department Civil Rights Division as an assistant attorney general, has won vocal support from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and many labor groups. Perez jump-started investigations of abusive police practices during his tenure at DOJ, and he’s made raising the minimum wage a priority at Labor.
The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page recently criticized Perez for his efforts to settle a controversial fair-housing case before the Supreme Court. But Randal Johnson, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tells NPR that Perez has reached across the aisle.
“We obviously have our policy differences, but we have found that the Secretary makes considerable efforts to reach out to the regulated community to hear our side of the story,” Johnson said in an email. “However, as many initiatives are still pending, the jury is still out on what impact those communications will have on the final product.”
Another often-mentioned name on the short list is Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. Verrilli, the administration’s representative to the Supreme Court, has told friends he’s not angling for the job but would find it difficult to refuse President Obama if he is asked to do it.
The Justice Department’s second in command, Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole, also is ready to leave by the end of the year. Depending upon which way the White House comes down on an attorney general replacement, sources tell NPR, Cleveland U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach could get the No. 2 job in the department.
Dettelbach has filed several high-profile civil rights cases, prosecuting a man for setting fire to the Islamic Center in Toledo and bringing another hate crimes case against Amish men in beard-cutting incidents. A federal appeals court panel recently reversed those hate crimes convictions.