Nearly two years into presidency, Biden still hasn’t nominated U.S. attorneys in Alabama

Since the 1970s, only Bill Clinton took longer to name top federal prosecutor in Mobile
Published: Oct. 14, 2022 at 6:28 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - President Joe Biden is closing in on the halfway point of his first term and, yet, still has not nominated anyone for the three U.S. attorney positions in Alabama.

Going back to Jimmy Carter, only President Bill Clinton took longer to nominate a top federal prosecutor in Mobile. It was not until January 1995 – two full years after taking office – that Clinton nominated J. Don Foster. The Senate confirmed him in March of that year.

The Mobile prosecutor’s office has been without a permanent boss since President Donald Trump’s U.S. attorney, Richard Moore, resigned in February last year. Since then, the first assistant U.S. attorney, Sean Costello, has been filling in.

“Those folks are career folks,” said Kenyen Brown, who was U.S. attorney in Mobile under President Barack Obama. “They know what they’re doing. And so the office is, generally speaking, in good hands until the U.S attorney who’s presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed is put into place.”

At the same time, Brown told FOX10 News, it is important for presidential appointees to be in place. The nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys are the face of any presidential administration in the justice system. They carry out the directives and prosecutorial priorities of an administration and oversee the career prosecutors who enforce federal law.

Brown, now in private practice in Washington, D.C, blamed hyper-partisanship for slowing down the nomination-and-confirmation process.

“They really should have their person in place to kind of walk out the priorities of the administration in the different districts across the country,” he said.

There are parliamentary maneuvers available even to the minority party in the Senate to slow down confirmations. For instance, a single senator can hold up a nomination by failing to return the so-called blue slip sent by the Senate Judiciary Committee to solicit input on nominations in that senator’s state.

“I’m not aware of that, specifically, in the Southern District of Alabama,” Brown said. “I do know that that has taken place in other jurisdictions.

Before Senate obstruction even can become an issue, though, the president first has to nominate someone. And Biden has failed to do so for about a third of the U.S. attorney positions.

“President Biden has nominated (60} U.S. Attorneys across the country so far, and looks forward to continuing to nominate highly qualified individuals to fill these positions in the coming weeks and months,” the White House said in a statement. “The Administration doesn’t speak about positions that it has yet to make any nominations for.”

Normally, senators of the president’s party take the lead in screening and recommending potential nominees. With no Democratic senators, that role falls to U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham), the only Democrat in Alabama’s congressional delegation. A spokesman for her office could not immediately offer an explanation for the slow pace of Biden’s appointments in Alabama.

Not everyone is unhappy that the prosecutor’s office is empty in Mobile. Rep. Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) suggested he just as soon would see it vacant for Biden’s entire presidency.

“It’s not negative,” he said. “You know, it would be a great time for us to hold off on any new appointees until we can get a Republican president in place. So, I’m not necessarily disappointed.”

Brown said partisans ought to give deference to the president when they are out of power. He noted that he supported Mobile’s Jeff Sessions for attorney general when Donald Trump was president.

Still, Brown acknowledged that “lethargy” on Biden administration’s part also is partly to blame.

“Like in Mobile and many districts, you don’t even have a nominee,” he said. “So they’re not even on the clock in terms of the Judiciary Committee to get them through.”

The current environment, Brown said, makes it hard to attract quality candidates. He said a lawyer in the private sector often does not want the distraction and uncertainly of a nomination process that can drag on for months. He recalled his own experience as a nominee, which was without controversy but still took months to complete.

Even if Biden nominates someone soon, Brown said, it could be next years – pasted the midway mark of the president’s term – before that nominee takes his post.

“That is ridiculous,” he said. “And these folks should be put in place whom the president selects.”


Here is a look at the recent record of presidential U.S. attorney appointments in Mobile. The roundup omits President George H.W. Bush, who opted to keep incumbent Jeff Sessions in place.

PRESIDENT: Jimmy Carter

  • Took office: January 1977
  • U.S Attorney: Billy Kimbrough
  • Nominated: 1977
  • Confirmed: 1977

PRESIDENT: Ronald Reagan

  • Took office: January 1981
  • U.S Attorney: Jeff Sessions
  • Nominated: July 1981
  • Confirmed: July 31, 1981

PRESIDENT: Bill Clinton

  • Took office: January 1993
  • U.S Attorney: J. Don Foster
  • Nominated: January 1995
  • Confirmed: March 24, 1995

PRESIDENT: George W. Bush

  • Took office: January 2001
  • U.S Attorney: David York
  • Nominated: November 2001
  • Confirmed: Jan. 25, 2002

PRESIDENT: Barack Obama

  • Took office: January 2009
  • U.S Attorney: Kenyen Brown
  • Nominated: August 2009
  • Confirmed: Nov. 21, 2009

PRESIDENT: Donald Trump

  • Took office: January 2017
  • U.S Attorney: Richard Moore
  • Nominated: June 2017
  • Confirmed: Sept. 14, 2017

Gray TV’s Washington bureau contributed to this story.


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