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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Pop quiz on U.S. Attorneys

Pop quiz:

(1) U.S. Attorneys are part of which branch of the government:

(a) Legislative;
(b) Judicial; or
(c) Executive.

Answer: (c).

(2) The person who has the ultimate decision on hiring and firing government employees in the Executive Branch is:

(a) Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid combo;
(b) Chief Justice John Roberts, in his role as head of the United States Judicial Conference; or
(c) the POTUS, George Bush.

Answer: (c).

(3) By statute (passed in accordance with, and subject to limitations of, the constitutional separation of powers doctrine), Congress' only proper role with respect to U.S. Attorneys is:

(a) To provide them with day to day oversight and direction;
(b) To confirm their permanent appointments and exercise minimal oversight (consistent with all Congressional oversight of Executive branch actions, i.e., for purposes of fulfilling Congress' ongoing legislative function); or
(c) To give any fired U.S. Attorneys a national forum to bitch and moan and claim that they were fired for their brave resistance to the subversion of justice and the rule of law by BushHitler/Rove + Cheney/Halliburton.

Answer: (b).

(4) Once confirmed in their positions by the Senate, U.S. Attorneys serve:

(a) For life, subject to impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate for high crimes and misdemeanors;
(b) For the remainder of the term of the President who appointed them, including any second terms; or
(c) At the pleasure (i.e., the whim) of each President, who can remove them with or without "good cause" and without consulting either of the other two branches of government.

Answer: (c).

(5) Once confirmed in their positions by the Senate, U.S. Attorneys tend to resign voluntarily:

(a) Rarely, because their jobs are very cushy, highly paid, and heavy on personal courtroom time like Patrick Fitzgerald just spent on the Libby trial;
(b) Occasionally, only when there is a political scandal or change in the party that holds the White House; or
(c) Not infrequently, and more often than is probably good for the judicial system, because they're typically being paid only a fraction of what they could make in private practice, their jobs have crushing administrative responsibilities that keep them from really "practicing law," they suffer high rates of burn-out, and they very often have other or better job opportunities by returning to private practice, becoming federal judges, teaching, or running for public office.

Answer: (c).

(6) Each U.S. Attorney's office focuses mainly on:

(a) Prosecution of high-profile crimes, especially political crimes;
(b) Prosecution of crimes of all sorts; or
(c) Representation of the United States is an incredibly broad variety of both criminal investigations and prosecutions and civil lawsuits and disputes, of which investigating and prosecuting crimes with substantial political overtones constitute a tiny, tiny fraction of the overall workload.

Answer: (c)

(7) Every U.S. Attorney has among the lawyers working for him or her many dozens of non-political "career staff" who are intimately involved in the day-to-day handling of essentially all matters in their district. (Large districts like Washington or the Southern District of New York each employ several hundred career staff attorneys all by themselves.) According to a recent DoJ recruiting brochure, in contrast to the political appointees at the top of each office,

[t]he average age of an AUSA [Assistant U.S. Attorneys] is 43. The average length of service for non-supervisory attorneys is 11 years. The average length of service for supervisory AUSAs is 20 years. These numbers indicate that although some attorneys may briefly pass through a U.S. Attorney’s Office to gain valuable experience, many more are pursuing a significant part of their career in this environment.

Most of these attorneys are highly principled; although career staff by definition are not typically hired on the basis of their personal politics or political involvement, most offices' career staff include Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and people who are apolitical but devoted to public service. Most of them could quit government service and triple their pay in a heartbeat. If they were aware of their bosses being systematically and unfairly fired for their failures to cooperate in the subversion of justice for political ends, they may reasonably be expected to:

(a) All remain silent, because they are concerned that Karl Rove will arrange Mafia hits on their family members for speaking out;
(b) All quit and flee to Uganda for the same reasons expressed in (a) above; or
(c) Resign en masse while picketing Congress and the mainstream media by the hundreds to better expose and protest the wholesale subversion of our constitutional government.

Answer: (c), and that hasn't happened, and won't, because the people actually in the best position to know, know that this is politics as usual by the party that controls Congress but doesn't control the White House, and in the meantime they'll just keep their heads down, keep doing their jobs on behalf of the people of the United States, refuse to give press interviews that would be spun for political purposes, and wait for the madness to pass.

(8) The seven U.S. Attorneys purportedly fired for improper political reasons to subvert the justice system represent what percentage of the total number of U.S. Attorney positions in the United States?

(a) About 7%;
(b) About 14%; or
(c) About 36%.

Answer: (a). There is one U.S. Attorney position for each federal judicial district in the United States, for a total of 94 (including U.S. territories). Texas, for example, has judicial districts, and therefore separate U.S. District Courts, for the Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Texas, so there are four U.S. Attorney positions for Texas. Many less populous states have only one federal judicial district, and so have only one U.S. Attorney position. Districts may have multiple "Divisions." Thus, for example, although Houston is the headquarters for the Southern District of Texas, there are also court divisions in Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Galveston, Laredo, McAllen, and Victoria; and all but Galveston (which is handled out of Houston) also has its own U.S. Attorney's division branch office.

(9) Number of U.S. Attorneys simultaneously fired by Bill Clinton upon taking office for brazen, unarguably political motives absolutely unrelated to their merits or job performance:

(a) One-third;
(b) Two-thirds; or
(c) All of them.

Answer: (c).

(10) For bonus credit: Without doing any research through Google or other online sources, can you name the current U.S. Attorney for the federal judicial district in which you live? (My guess is that less that 5% of non-lawyers outside of Chicago or Manhattan could answer this question accurately. The Southern District of Texas' current U.S. Attorney is Donald J. DeGabrielle, Jr.; he's been in office about a year, but I admit that I had to look up his name, so I get no bonus credit.

Posted by Beldar at 09:05 AM in Law (2007), Politics (2007) | Permalink


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(1) TMac made the following comment | Mar 14, 2007 9:42:37 AM | Permalink

I didn't know who the US Atty in my district was so I cheated. Being from Texas, I looked at the "big picture" and was surprised to see that the districts look like gerrymandered political districts. I wonder why.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Mar 14, 2007 9:58:25 AM | Permalink

There's generally no gerrymander involved. The small jigs and jags in the borders are based on county lines, which in Texas are awfully irregular anyway. In multi-district states, the districts tend to represent compromises — sometimes political but more often based on geography, population centers, and travel — made as the states have grown. The history in Texas, for example, is this:

Texas was admitted to the United States in 1845 and was originally considered one judicial district under the leadership of Judge John C. Watrous. The court was also granted circuit court powers meaning appeals went straight to the U. S. Supreme Court. In 1857, congress created the Eastern and Western District of Texas and appointed Thomas Duval to be the judge of the Western District. Texas continued to grow, and in 1879, congress formed the Northern District. As the railroads continued to expand and fuel the Texas economy, congress created the Southern District on July 1, 1902 appointing Waller T. Burns to the bench as the district's first judge.

Every few years, some Congressman will get it in his head to tinker with the counties in each district slightly, or redesignate which cities are to have divisions hold court in them, and that is indeed sometimes for political reasons, but they're usually petty and purely local ones.

The number of districts in each state change far, far less frequently than Congressional districts (i.e., far less often than every 10 years), and the main focus is on the number of courts and judgeships, rarely on the number of U.S. Attorneys (which is essentially a by-product). The judicial seats are life appointments, and it's not like you have to tinker with the population to make incumbent seats "safe" or dilute one party's voting rights. And the biggest of those political fights have arisen from proposals to create new multi-state circuits or split existing ones. Mississippi, for instance, long stalled the split of the old Fifth Circuit (TX, LA, MS, AL, GA & FL) because it didn't want to be lumped in with what it perceived to be the more liberal Fifth Circuit judges (especially on desegregation matters) in Texas and Louisiana. Current proposals to split the Ninth Circuit continue to founder on what to do with California, as no current state is split into two different circuits, but no current circuit (except D.C., sorta-kinda but not really) comprises only a single state.

(3) P.K. made the following comment | Mar 14, 2007 11:29:23 AM | Permalink

As a non-lawyer in Pittsburgh PA, my pre-Google answer to the bonus question is Mary Beth Buchanan. Thanks for a rundown on the U.S attorney "issue." I especially liked the answer to the last question.

(4) TMac made the following comment | Mar 14, 2007 11:40:48 AM | Permalink

Thanks for the explanation. Very interesting to this layman. It seemed odd, looking at the TX district map that the northern extended to south TX and the western extended into east texas, with the eastern district being less than half the population (and land) size of its neighbors.

(5) antimedia made the following comment | Mar 14, 2007 1:16:18 PM | Permalink

For bonus bonus credit:
Democrats and moonbats (but I repeat myself)
a) fully understand that there is nothing to this
b) could care less about the truth
c) will seize any opportunity for political advantage with the full cooperation of the media regardless of whether or not it violates their "principles"
d) all of the above

(6) Jinnmabe made the following comment | Mar 14, 2007 2:46:20 PM | Permalink

Answer to #10: Idaho has only one district and the US attorney is Tom Moss. Ok, now I'm off to Google it to see if I'm right.

(7) Halteclere made the following comment | Mar 22, 2007 1:10:07 PM | Permalink

How is Bill Clinton's firing of all 94 US Attorneys when he took office different than when Reagan and G.W. Bush took office (question #9), except that Clinton clumsily had all the firings occur at once? If every new president appoints new US Attorneys, isn't question #9 just a smear on Clinton and has no legal basis? Or am I missing something here?


(8) Beldar made the following comment | Mar 22, 2007 3:22:40 PM | Permalink

I don't think #9 is a smear on Clinton. I think it's a rebuttal to the current critics of the Bush Administration who are trying to suggest to the public that there is something improper per se in firing some or all U.S. Attorneys at the whim of the President. It's just a dramatic example of the hypocrisy of people like Sens. Schumer or Leahy who certainly know better.

(9) charclax made the following comment | Mar 23, 2007 8:39:36 AM | Permalink

Belated welcome back. We all missed you so much. With regard to the US Atty dust-up, the only thing that GWB has done wrong is to not smack Pelosi/Reid/Schumer/Leahy in the mouth with the Constitution as soon as they brought this nonsense up. What this episode reveals yet again is 1) the inability of the WH to get out in front of a stream of nonsense before it drowns them and 2) the utter lack of civics knowledge of US citizens. Naturalized citizens probably have a better grasp of what our government is supposed to do than most native-born citizens.

(10) Informed Citizen made the following comment | Mar 28, 2007 9:15:15 AM | Permalink

US Attorneys have a duty to prosecute even the President if he violates the Law.

Congress has Constitutional Authority and a DUTY to impeach ANY US Attorney, or other employed in the Executive Branch who violates our Constitution.

That includes for Obstructing Justice by firing US Attorneys who prosecute Republicans or refuse to prosecute Democrats when the facts do not support a prosecution.

Executive Power is limited by our Constitution. It is a violation of our Constitution and Laws made in pursuance thereof for the President, Karl Rove, or his other henchmen, to fire US Attorneys for enforcing the Law.

I'm new to this blog so one additional comment.

I was a Conservative before 35 and am now a 52 year old Liberal. Wisdom comes with age and experience, as well as education.

Americans are Liberals (classic Liberalism). It is essentail we "conserve" this Liberalism. The Neo Conservatives want to destroy our Liberal Tradition and restore the Monarchy. They are very "liberal" in their choice of strategy and tactice for doing so.

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