When Jerry Martin announced on April 3 that he was leaving his position as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, speculation began in earnest over who would be the area’s next “top cop.”
Minutes after the news broke, names began to be bandied about, with plenty of speculation over who was the front-runner and who would wind up on the short list. Here is what The City Paper has learned and a little of what the next U.S. attorney should expect when he or she starts the job.
First, the appointment is made by the president, with the consent of the U.S. Senate. Typically, the White House relies on a local recommendation, in this case from Rep. Jim Cooper.
Cooper and his staff will send a report to the White House after interviewing interested candidates, including recommendations. Interested candidates should know that recommendations are made but not always followed, and hopefuls shouldn’t get in a twist if they don’t get the job in the end.
Of note here is that sources familiar with the process have told The City Paper that the White House has an interest in appointing a woman to the job. No woman has been the U.S. attorney in Middle Tennessee before, so it would be a first. The request is not unexpected, as the Obama administration has been striving to appoint more women and minorities to federal posts.
That being said, they can still change their mind.
So you are a woman who is recommended by Cooper and liked by the Obama team (which means you are a Democrat). That means you’ve got the job, right? Nope.
You still have to win the approval of the U.S. Senate, which means you also have to have the support of the senior senator from your state, in this case Lamar Alexander. (It’s protocol that senators defer to the wishes of the senior U.S. senator of the state in which the appointment is being made.)
As all of this unfolds, you are also being vetted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Investigators will look at your tax returns, talk to your business partners and dig into your past to make sure you don’t have an embarrassing secret that will derail the nomination and make you (and the administration) look bad.
If the White House wants to move the process along more quickly, they could go with a nominee like Nashville attorney Kathryn Barnett, who was vetted once before when she was considered for a federal judgeship.
So imagine all of this has happened, you are appointed, and you have your dream job of being U.S. attorney. Now what?
Being the U.S. attorney is like being the managing partner at a law firm. You aren’t trying cases, you are managing the office. When positions are open, you interview and hire people. You can direct the assistant U.S. attorneys on what cases to prioritize, but they handle the workload.
For you to be successful, you need their respect. They are the ones in the trenches, and they generally prefer someone who has been in battle with them (or against them).
They also respect someone who gets to know the needs of the office and the district before making priorities. A past example is in Chicago, where famed former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald made it known early in his tenure that his priorities centered on public corruption. Martin made a priority to prosecute health care fraud.
While federal nominations can take time due to the number of parties involved, the Obama administration has indicated that it would like to move quickly.