RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Leadership changes are coming to U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout the U.S., an expected change following the election of a new president.
On Feb. 9, the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked U.S. Attorneys appointed by President Donald Trump to submit their resignations, effective Feb. 28.
There are 93 U.S. Attorneys throughout the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. They are appointed by and serve at the discretion of the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate.
U.S. Attorneys are charged with the enforcement of laws by prosecuting federal criminal offenses, litigating affirmative and defensive civil suits, and collecting judgments and restitution for victims and taxpayers.
However, especially in the case of a one-term presidency, not all U.S. Attorneys may have a chance to go through the full confirmation process, meaning the resignation request from the Biden Administration does not apply. Acting and Interim U.S. Attorneys have not yet been asked to resign.
Shortly after President Joe Biden was elected, several U.S. Attorneys preemptively announced their resignations, deferring to the historical processes for transition of power.
One such resignation came from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA), where G. Zachary Terwilliger announced he would be stepping down, effective Jan. 15. The office has since been under the leadership of Acting U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh.
Last week, Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to the White House recommending candidates for the U.S. Attorney vacancies in the EDVA and the Western District of Virginia (WDVA). In their letter, the Senators named Jessica Aber, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the EDVA, and John Hall, civil litigator at Covington & Burling, for the EDVA position.
The Senators recommended Christopher Kavanaugh, Assistant U.S. Attorney in the WDVA, and Erin B. Ashwell, Chief Deputy Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia, for the WDVA position.
“Panels of esteemed attorneys from across the Commonwealth interviewed Ms. Aber, Mr. Hall, Mr. Kavanaugh, and Ms. Ashwell, along with many other excellent candidates,” the Senators wrote to President Biden. “After considering the panels’ reviews and conducting our own interviews, we find these four candidates to be exceptionally qualified for the position of U.S Attorney.”
Although Parekh has served as Acting U.S. Attorney for almost two months, he did not apply for the politically-appointed U.S. Attorney position and intends to continue his work in the EDVA Office after a nominee for the role is announced and confirmed.
It is the job of the White House to nominate one individual for each vacancy to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nominations are subject to confirmation by the full Senate.
“It is an honor to serve as Acting U.S. Attorney and the first person of color to lead our Office in its 232-year history, ” Parekh said. “I look forward to continuing my service here as a career federal prosecutor, and I am committed to working closely with whomever is ultimately nominated and confirmed as we seek equal justice under the law, embrace diversity and inclusion and protect our communities.”
After a U.S. Attorney steps down in the wake of a new President taking office, the First Assistant U.S. Attorney will often take on the role in the interim. That is what happened with Parekh, who is only the fourth First Assistant in EDVA in the past 34 years. In this case, the Acting U.S. Attorney traditionally assumes the role of First Assistant once again, after a new U.S. Attorney is nominated and confirmed. New U.S. Attorneys are empowered to appoint others to supervisory positions.