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March 13, 2009

The specifics of criminal justice in the Obama Administration still coming into focus

As detailed in this New York Times article, the Senate yesterday confirmed (with a little controversy over porn) two key Obama appointment for the Department of Justice:

The Senate confirmed David W. Ogden as deputy attorney general on Thursday, by a vote of 65 to 28, after an often testy debate between Republicans and Democrats that dipped in and out of discussions of pornography....

When Mr. Ogden, who served in the Justice Department in the Clinton administration, was in private practice, he represented Playboy magazine as well as librarians opposed to software mandated by Congress that filters Internet content.... [Some] senators contended that his representation of Playboy and the librarians amounted to a “predilection” toward views sympathetic to them, despite his assertions that he found child pornography abhorrent.

Another Justice Department nominee, Thomas J. Perrelli, faced a smoother path to confirmation, receiving approval by a vote of 72 to 20.  Mr. Perrelli will assume the No. 3 position in the department, as associate attorney general.

Meanwhile, as this new Washington Post article details, who will be making the chief local calls about justice issues during the Obama Administration remains sketchy.  The Post piece is headlined "How Obama Will Handle U.S. Attorney Posts Still Unclear," and here are excerpts:

One of the better spoils of winning the presidency is the power to appoint nearly 100 top prosecutors across the country. But filling the plum jobs has become a test of competing priorities for President Obama. While he pledged bipartisanship during his campaign, replacing the cadre of mostly conservative U.S. attorneys would signal a new direction....

Obama has not made clear how he will build his own corps of prosecutors, a group that shapes an administration's approach to law enforcement and is critical to its smooth operation. U.S. attorneys' offices handled more than 100,000 criminal cases and recovered $1.3 billion in forfeited cash and property in the past fiscal year, according to a prosecutors' trade group.

The White House is under pressure from several fronts, both to appoint new prosecutors favored by members of Congress and, in other cases, to keep some U.S. attorneys from the Bush administration....

Advisers to Obama say they have learned from past mistakes, including Clinton's decision to require all U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations.

As I have suggested in some previous posts, these appointments to Main Justice and the approach taken to the appointment of US Attorneys likely will have a profound impact on the nature and direction of federal criminal justice law and policy over the next few years.  Especially since neither President Obama or AG Holder seems likely to make federal criminal justice reform a top policy priority, the main deputies at DOJ and the line USAs will decide, both formally and informally, set federal criminal justice priorities in the months and years ahead.

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March 13, 2009 at 09:35 AM | Permalink

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