The pattern raises the prospect of a shift in how the nation’s laws would be enforced and underscores Trump’s broader lack of diversity in appointments, starting at the top with his Cabinet, which is dominated by white men.
Nominating only one woman out of 42 also cannot help but recall prior episodes of Trump’s treatment of women, from the sexually aggressive comments the “Access Hollywood” tape revealed during the campaign to his move in April permitting states to withhold federal money from Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion services.
Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have vowed a tougher law enforcement agenda, with the harshest charges possible and ramped up seizures of suspects’ property. As the White House sent more names to the Senate on Monday, bringing Trump’s US attorney candidates to 42, it became clear that nearly all those in control of the agenda will be men.
That is a striking gender gap for one of the most consequential law enforcement roles nationwide. Trump’s pattern also marks a significant departure from President Barack Obama’s effort to build diversity among US attorneys.
During the same period through early September of his first year in office, Obama had nominated 20 US attorneys, five of them women. At the end of his two terms, he had named 109 US attorneys, 24 of them women, according to Senate Judiciary Committee statistics.
The 93 US attorneys, assigned by judicial districts, initiate investigations and decide charges. They steer federal enforcement priorities — from drugs to cyber crime to political corruption — and significantly affect who lands in prison, and for how long.
US attorneys interact broadly with their communities on public safety and often claim a high-profile perch on the national scene. Many are later tapped for trial judgeships or other office. Among the most well-known US attorneys are former New York prosecutors Mary Jo White, James Comey and Preet Bharara. But other former US attorneys remain on the public stage, including Janet Napolitano, who became governor of Arizona, then secretary of Homeland Security and is now president of the University of California system.
“Women are more than half the country and representation by women at all professional levels is critically important,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the senior Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, which screens a president’s US attorney nominees. “This administration can and should do better than nominating just one woman out of 42.”
Judiciary committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sarah Isgur Flores, director of the Justice Department’s office of public affairs, declined to answer questions about diversity but instead stressed the nominees’ past experiences as prosecutors, in the military or with police departments and the FBI.
“We are proud that President Trump has nominated twice as many US attorneys at this point than the previous administration,” she said, “including a significant number of veterans and law enforcement, who will dedicate themselves to upholding the rule of law and combating crime across the country.”
A White House official noted separately that the President has so far nominated only about half of the full US attorney field and said the administration “continues to seek a wide range of diverse and qualified candidates for each jurisdiction.”
The Justice Department works with home-state senators to fill these positions, and traditionally most home-state recommendations are accepted. Yet, these appointments are the President’s to make, and as the Trump White House has rolled out recent names, it has declared that the individuals share the President’s vision for “Making America Safe Again.”
In the past, Democratic and Republican presidents have looked beyond white men. Statistics related to the race of recent nominees were not immediately available, but the vast majority of Trump’s 42 US attorney candidates appear to be white.
“Having diversity both in gender and race among the crop of US attorneys is vital,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department civil rights division in the Obama administration and now president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. “They need to have the trust of the community. To have these kinds of statistics in 2017 is incredibly dispiriting. It’s going to have an impact on how the Justice Department is viewed.”
Three US attorneys have been approved and 39 nominees are pending. The only woman in the group is Jessie Liu, the current deputy general counsel for the Treasury Department. CNN earlier reported that Trump took the unusual step of meeting personally
with Liu before her selection in June. She was selected to be US attorney for the District of Columbia.
By this early September date during the George W. Bush administration (2001-2009), the president had nominated 47 US attorneys, five of whom were women.
One of those women was Susan Brooks, confirmed as US attorney for the southern district of Indiana. Brooks is now a Republican congresswoman.
“I served with many outstanding, talented women,” Brooks said on Tuesday referring to her 2001-2007 tenure. “The backgrounds of the female US attorneys added significantly to the work of the Justice Department.”
Brooks added, “I’ve been surprised by the current numbers, but they still have 50-plus to go. There are plenty of opportunities to nominate the talented women that I know are out in the country.”