Obama was elected a year ago this week and has been in office since January. What kind of politics is at work that has led Obama to nominate Joyce Vance to the U.S. Attorney spot in the Northern District in less than four months, but to leave Bush appointee Leura Canary as U.S. Attorney in the Middle District to this day? Has a deal been struck to leave Canary in place? Many of you have heard the whispers suggesting just that. I wrangled the person most knowledgeable about the process that I could find and asked about it.
This individual recalled that Redding Pitt was appointed by Bill Clinton to replace James Wilson [who had been appointed by Bush I] in the Middle District in August 2004, some 19 months into Clinton’s administration. Using that yardstick, there is nothing extraordinary at work here with Obama yet to name a replacement 10 months into his administration.
Still, why even this delay? The source lays it out for us.
An advisory committee headed up by Artur Davis recommended two names for the Middle District: Michel Nicrosi and Joe Van Heest. Sen. Jeff Sessions raised objections about Nicrosi. (A customary practice that most presidents have followed is to respect a “hold” put on a nomination for U.S. attorney, federal judge, or appellate judge by a U.S. Senator in the state where the appointees would serve.) Nicrosi worked with Sessions in the Southern District when Sessions was the U.S. Attorney. The source offers that perhaps because Nicrosi clashed with some of Sessions’ hires in the U.S. Attorney’s office, “Sessions was openly critical of Nicrosi, and the White House decided to go in a different direction.”
There were no initial objections to Joe Van Heest, though Sen. Richard Shelby eventually decided to oppose Van Heest’s nomination. The nominal reason that Shelby blocked Van Heest, according to the source, is that Shelby objected to some aspects of Heest’s law practice; others have speculated that Shelby blocked Van Heest because Shelby has another name he would rather have nominated. Efforts to get Shelby to lift the block have not panned out.
Since then the nomination has been offered to and turned down by Delores Boyd, Truman Hobbs, Tracy McCooey, Vanzetta McPherson, and Bobby Segall. Charles Price refused to be considered for the position.
Artur Davis had suggested attorney George Beck to the Justice Department as an alternate in case Shelby would not release the hold on Van Heest, and Bessie Ford’s “Inside Politics” newsletter has recently suggested that Beck has emerged as the likely nominee.
Our source familiar with the process believes that there is a very good chance that the matter will be resolved in a matter of weeks in one of three ways in this order of likelihood: 1) Shelby will release the hold on Van Heest, 2) George Beck will be nominated, or 3) the Obama Justice Deparment will send in a career person from outside the state, similar to what George W. Bush’s Justice Department did when it sent Deborah Rhodes to the Southern District of Alabama.
A deal to keep Bush appointee Leura Canary? That’s not what we hear.