Presidential Choices for Attorney General?

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Supreme Courtship
by Christopher Buckley

> August 2008

Who are the Most Likely Candidates to become Attorney General if Barack Obama Wins the Presidency on November 4th?
What about if John McCain wins?

by Steven Sarshik

Obama is a graduate of Harvard Law School (where he was editor of the Law Review) and he taught courses in Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago for ten years (where he consistently received high ratings in the student evaluations).  It is therefore expected that he will put a lot of time into making a selection for Attorney General.  Obama in the Senate voted against confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General.  He did not cast a vote on the nomination of Michael Mukasey last year because he was out campaigning. However, he did issue a statement before the vote explaining that he was opposed to Mukasey:  “We don’t need another attorney general who believes that the president enjoys an unwritten right to secretly ignore any law or abridge our constitutional freedoms simply by invoking national security.  And we don’t need another attorney general who looks the other way on issues as profound as torture.”

Here are the most likely Democratic candidates for the post:

nantucket flagERIC HOLDER served as the Co-chair of the Obama Presidential Campaign and was one of two people charged with vetting the Vice-presidential candidates, so he clearly has Obama’s trust.  Holder graduated from Columbia Law School and in 1993 was appointed as the first African-American Attorney General for Washington D.C.  Four years later, President Bill Clinton named him to serve as Deputy Attorney General.  After the Clinton Administration, Holder joined the law firm of Covington and Burling where he worked as a litigator.  The National Football League retained him to probe allegations about quarterback Michael Vick’s connection to illegal dog fighting.   Negatives:  Holder has been criticized for allegedly pushing through the Marc Rich pardon during the last days of the Clinton Administration and for by-passing prosecutors assigned to that case. 

nantucket flagGREG CRAIG has to be considered a supreme Washington insider.  He served as Special Counsel in the Clinton White House and directed the team defending Clinton during the impeachment hearings.  He also served as a foreign policy advisor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.  Craig is a graduate of Yale Law School (where he met Bill and Hillary Clinton), so it came as somewhat of a surprise when he endorsed Senator Obama during the primary contests.  He is now a partner at Williams and Connolly.  Negatives:  He may generate opposition from Senate Republicans during a confirmation hearing because he has been involved in a number of high profile cases (and not on the side favored by Republican zealots).  Craig represented the Cuban father of Elian Gonzalez during the child custody dispute in 2000 that ended when the child was forcible seized by U.S. Marshalls.

nantucket flagJANET NAPOLITANO won election as Governor of red-state Arizona in a very tough battle, and then won re-election by nearly a 2-1 margin.  In 2005 Time Magazine named her one of the five best governors in the United States.  The next year she served as the chair of the National Governors Association.  She may be looking for a cabinet appointment since she is term limited.  Napolitano is a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School and served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.  She was elected Attorney General of the state before becoming Governor.  In private practice, she represented Anita Hill during her testimony at the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.  Negatives:  Not a particularly close confidant of Obama although she supported him during the primaries.

nantucket flagRICHARD DURBIN is the senior Senator from Illinois and was Obama’s mentor when he came to Senate.  Obama apparently has a close working and professional relationship with Durbin (Note:  Senator Durbin was named in the first sentence of Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention).  Durbin has a liberal voting record.  He is a graduate of Georgetown University Law School.  Negatives:  This may not be the perfect job for him.  Durbin is the Assistant Majority leader in the Senate, a position he might want to hold onto, since he could move up to Majority Leader.  Also, Obama may want to keep him in the Senate to help with his legislative program.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:   San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, and Alabama Congressman Artur Davis.

NOT GIVEN MUCH OF A CHANCE:   Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Obama did not select Senator Clinton as his running mate and it is unlikely that he would want to place her in this ultra-sensitive position.   For her part, she might prefer to remain as Senator from New York.  John Edwards was at one time considered a prime candidate for Attorney General, but recent tabloid articles show that he would be a distraction in a new administration.