Trump's U.S. Attorney Nominees Are Almost All White Men

September 12, 2017
Guest Post

by Dan Froomkin

The local face of federal law enforcement in the Trump administration is white and male.

As of this week, Trump has nominated 42 U.S. attorneys -- and 41 of them are men. Fully 38 of them are white men. There is one African-American.

And there is not a single Latino.

It's a breathtaking diversity fail for this day and age -- a throwback to a time when women and people of color faced overwhelming barriers to advancement.

"It feels like no steps forward, five steps back," said Sumun Pendakur, a director at the University of Southern California's Race and Equity Center.

"For me, this follows the broader trajectory of President Trump's nominees and appointments in that the larger act of 'making America great again' is really 'making American white supremacist again' and 'making America sexist again," she said. "Not that any of those things had disappeared, but making sure those things are at the center. And that's frightening."

As of late July, 28 of the 29 people Trump had nominated for U.S. attorney positions were men. There was one Asian-American woman, one African-American man, one Asian-American man and one Native American man.

Since then, all 13 of his nominees have been white men.

Consider the percentages: The nominees are 98 percent male; 90 percent white male.

And this is hardly a statistical fluke, easily remedied down the road. Trump has now selected candidates for over half of the 93 U.S. attorney positions across the nation. Only three have yet been confirmed by the Senate.

By this point in his presidency, Barack Obama had only nominated 20 U.S. attorneys. (He wasn't in as much of a rush as Trump, who in March abruptly demanded that the 46 remaining U.S. attorneys who had been appointed under Obama resign effective immediately.) But of those 20, five were women. There were three African-Americans and two Asian-Americans. Ultimately, somewhat over 20 percent of Obama's nominees were women; a similar percentage were people of color.

"In order for Trump to make up the gap and approach the male-to-female ratio under Obama, almost half of the still-to-come nominees would have to be women," said Victoria Bassetti, who is leading the American Constitution Society’s analysis of US Attorneys.

Trump has already picked nominees for the districts that include Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta — but has yet to announce who he wants to head several of the highest-profile offices, which include New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia and Houston.

Trump's other top-level nominees to his administration are also overwhelmingly male. The Partnership for Public Service, which tracks 570 key positions that require Senate confirmation (not including the 93 U.S. Attorney positions), calculates that of the 287 people Trump has nominated so far, 226 – or 79 percent -- are men. The Partnership doesn't track race.

Pendakur said that because the U.S. attorney nominees "in no way shape or form reflect what America looks or feels like," they will inevitably suffer from a narrow field of vision, raising a distinct "potential for the uneven enforcement and application of federal law across the nation."

U.S. attorneys are the top federal law-enforcement officers in their jurisdictions; the front line for prosecutorial decisions. Top law-enforcement priorities in the Trump administration appear to include immigration dragnets, tougher drug sentencing, more civil asset forfeiture and searching for nearly nonexistent voter fraud. The decisions individual U.S. attorneys make will determine how disproportionately communities of color suffer from them.

Beyond the practical effects of Trump's shockingly white and male U.S. attorney nominees, there's the matter of the message he is sending. "That is absolutely a message," Pendakur said. "It's a message about who is competent. It's a message to communities that are marginalized. And it's a very, very clear message about whose identities and backgrounds are valued."

There are, she said, "three or four layers of how damaging this is."

Some of the white men Trump is nominating have prior experience in U.S. attorney offices; some are even career prosecutors. But other seem to lack any relevant background.

Matthew G.T. Martin, Trump's pick to be U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina comes from Duke Energy, where is he an associate general counsel. His background appears to be mostly in construction litigation. Or, as North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr put it: “His vast experience in the private sector have prepared him well to bring a fresh perspective to the Middle District Attorney’s Office.

Michael B. Stuart, Trump's pick to lead the Southern District of West Virginia, is a corporate lawyer best known for having served as the chairman of Trump's West Virginia campaign. He was also a particularly strident chairman of the state's Republican Party, leading a local newspaper columnist to describe him as "whooping the war call and flashing his saber."