Biden Must Nominate U.S. Attorneys Who Will Implement Needed Criminal Justice Reforms
President Biden’s decisions about who to nominate as federal prosecutors must reflect his campaign commitment to criminal justice reform—and the changed national focus on progressive prosecution. A broad group of organizations released a letter on Wednesday calling on Biden to do just that.
Biden must nominate individuals committed to meaningful change in the federal criminal legal system:
- Biden “must elevate committed reformers to these powerful roles, not the same tough-on-crime prosecutors and corporate law attorneys who helped to construct our current broken order,” advised the group of more than 30 organizations, led by the Revolving Door Project, in the letter, which was provided to The Point.
- Biden should nominate individuals who would create a needed shift in federal prosecution, which has thus far been untouched by the “progressive prosecutor” movement. Local district attorney offices are increasingly filled with bold reformers working to end punitive prosecutorial practices and reverse the harm they caused. But, with few exceptions, federal prosecutors have pursued “tough on crime” policies and fought with local reformers. A spate of Biden nominees could change that.
- Biden should work with “Democratic representatives and criminal justice leaders to select U.S Attorneys capable of delivering fair sentencing, rearranging prosecutorial priorities and rooting out misconduct,” the group stated, noting that reform-minded state and local prosecutors, as well as public defenders, are apt nominees.
Biden’s DOJ is critical to his plans for progress:
- There are 93 U.S. attorneys and “each is responsible for criminal enforcement on issues ranging from civil rights and police misconduct, to white collar crime and drug charges, with significant discretion over what to prioritize with their limited resources,” explained the group. Among the signatory organizations are Demand Justice, Drug Policy Alliance, Health in Justice Action Lab, National Association of Social Workers, and Vera Institute of Justice.
- Biden has pledged to scale back mass incarceration and address the racial, gender, and income disparities in the criminal legal system. U.S. attorneys are responsible for many of the decisions that led to those problems and will be essential to fixing them.
- Scholars Rachel Barkow and Mark Osler recently explained in an Appeal Lab report that there is a lot Biden can do through the DOJ to push forward necessary reforms. But that won’t happen by “[r]ecycling Obama appointments and relying on former prosecutors.”
- Letter to President Biden on U.S. Attorney Nominees. More than 30 organizations signed onto the letter calling for reform-oriented U.S. Attorney nominees.
- 14 Steps Biden’s DOJ Can Take Now to Reform America’s Criminal Legal System. The DOJ, with its vast authority and discretion, and its power to unilaterally shape the federal criminal legal system, should be a driving force for dramatic, high-impact change.
- Biden’s Justice Reform Should Influence Prosecutor Appointments (The Hill). In this op-ed, Russ Feingold (American Constitution Society) and Amy Fettig (The Sentencing Project) explain the importance of nominating reform-minded prosecutors to make reform possible.