More than a year after President Biden took office, some of the most important legal positions in the federal government for Texas, like all four U.S. Attorney positions, remain unfilled, though they are signs that may change soon. However, the process for getting there has been anything but smooth or fair (for which we can all thank Ted Cruz).
In Texas there are four U.S. Attorneys, and they serve as the chief federal law enforcement official for each district (north, south, east, and west). They are nominated by the president, but only in technicality.
In reality, the nomination of a U.S. Attorney is subject to the whims of the Senators who represent that state. While Republicans have a long pipeline of federal and judicial candidates who have been primed across Texas, Democrats are playing catch-up. Last year Texas Signal spoke with the Texas Democratic Lawyers Association (TDLA), an organization dedicated to finding the best candidates to serve as a U.S. Attorney.
But even if a U.S. Attorney candidate is qualified, they have to make it to a round of interviews with a selection committee handpicked by Senators Cruz and Cornyn. Though this selection committee is touted as bipartisan, in reality it’s stacked with right-wing Republicans who have given thousands to Cruz and Cornyn.
Several congressional Democrats recommended candidates to the White House for the four U.S. Attorney positions. Many of them also worked with the TDLA for that process. A number of these U.S. Attorney candidates went a step further and filled out an application to start the vetting process.
The Federal Judiciary Evaluation Committee Questionnaire (FJEC), which is still listed on the websites of Cornyn and Cruz, is fairly standard. There are questions related to former employment, state bar history, and all the courts where applicants have been admitted to practice. However, one section did seem to disqualify several U.S. Attorney candidates: “please itemize all financial contributions you have made to any candidate (excluding yourself), any campaign committee, any political party, and any political action committee as well as the dates of each contribution.”
Texas Signal spoke with two people closely involved with the U.S. Attorney selection process who requested anonymity. Both individuals agreed on one thing: there was an intense effort by Cruz to torpedo any candidate who was a strong Democrat or had donated heavily to Democratic candidates. Particularly, large donations to Beto O’Rourke appeared to be the kiss of death to an applicant.
Cruz is well within his right to use his position as a Texas senator to hold sway of U.S. Attorney nominations. Still, this appears to be another occasion where Cruz has unnecessarily injected a polarizing atmosphere into governing. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same individual who laid the groundwork for what would become the Insurrection at the Capitol. This is also the same Senator who created a blockade of State Department nominees last year.
Even though many qualified Texas U.S. Attorney candidates were spiked from consideration due to politics, many of the current candidates would be good holders of the office. In Houston, three men of color are in the final running for U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of Texas according to the Houston Chronicle. All three are imminently qualified. And according to donor records, none contributed to Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 senatorial campaign against Cruz.
And while the four Texans who wind up as U.S. Attorneys may well be qualified and distinguished in their own right, it is unfair that many candidates were excluded from the process simply because of partisan politics.
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