Attorney General: Who’s Got Next?

Attorney General Eric Holder with President Barack Obama while announcing his resignation Sept. 25, 2014, in Washington, D.C. The president said Holder will remain in office until a successor is nominated and confirmed.  
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Let the appointment games begin. It may not be the kitchen-table topic of choice, but President Barack Obama’s replacement choice for outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder will be one of the more significant decisions of his presidency. The list is long, but the politics are just getting started for what could be a noisy confirmation battle to determine who will be the nation’s top law enforcer for the next two years. Any guesses?

The Take sought out a panel of esteemed legal and political experts on who that could or should be. Offering insight was Ghatt Media Holdings managing partner and policy analyst Jeneba Ghatt, Hiram College political scientist and commentator Jason Johnson, Quinnipiac University political science professor Khalilah Brown-Dean, and Philadelphia lawyer and activist Michael Coard.


Jeneba Ghatt (@jenebaspeaks): Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez would be a good pick. He is the son of working-class Dominican immigrants, speaks fluent Spanish and has aggressively promoted Obama’s domestic agenda since taking the post. He’s had a chance to really shine on issues such as the minimum wage, job training, community college, student loans, equal pay, LGBT protections, fair labor practices and immigration.

Alternatively, other picks and people of color would work. With Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) and California Attorney General Kamala Harris (bowing) out, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta E. Lynch stands out. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara and soon-to-step-down U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jenny Durkan both percolate to the top.


There are major obstacles, though. Republicans have caught on to the Dems’ lame-duck plans and will make it a rallying cry. The Supreme Court ruled this summer against the Obama administration’s recess appointment to the National Labor Relations Board during a Senate pro forma session. If Obama waits and the Senate does flip to Republican, then he may be better off going with less controversial picks like current U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. and recently resigned White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler.

Jason Johnson (@drjasonjohnson): Handicapping the “race” for attorney general—as it were—is about as valuable as making guesses on Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential pick. The question is not so much who Obama should pick to replace Holder but what that person will focus on in the final two years of his presidency. 


If Holder was Obama’s “anger translator” for six years, then what does Obama really want to say in his final two? Does he want to be conciliatory? Does he want a protector in the face of a Republican impeachment process? Does Obama want to go out swinging with “Django the Attorney General,” who will aggressively burn down institutions of discrimination and oppression? It’s the attitude and philosophy of who Obama picks that is much more important than the demographic package it comes in. 

Khalilah Brown-Dean (@KBDPHD): Intense public demand for federal intervention in places like Ferguson, Mo.; Beavercreek, Ohio; and Staten Island, N.Y., highlight the important challenges facing the Justice Department. However, the recent withdrawal of Debo Adegbile’s nomination to head up the Civil Rights Division highlights a growing conservative undercurrent running throughout the Senate that isn’t bound by political party. The president must choose a nominee who brings tremendous experience and a political cachet that will make it very difficult for senators to vote against.


I think the next attorney general should be Jenny Durkan. Her long-standing commitment to addressing police abuse and protecting the rights of citizens will appeal to Obama’s traditional base. However, her critiques of Washington state’s recent decision to legalize recreational marijuana will find great favor with conservatives. Durkan also enjoys broad support from the LGBT community (a decisive voting bloc in 2016). Blocking her nomination would be political suicide.

Michael Coard (@MichaelCoard): Although published reports don’t give any reliable indication as to who’s the front-runner, I hope—on behalf of blacks, Latinos, low-income whites and others who are similarly situated—that Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is appointed. Hood has been at the forefront of the class-conscious battle to throw the criminally exploitative and heartlessly greedy CEOs of obscenely wealthy banks, insurance companies, oil conglomerates and pharmaceutical firms in jail. Despite Holder’s laudable work regarding voting rights, he’s done nothing to lock up corporate criminals, enthusiastically accepting insulting offers to pay nothing more than minor fines for major crimes. Hood can’t be bought.


Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.

Share This Story