President-elect Biden considering Senator Doug Jones for US Attorney General
News outlets nationwide are reporting that Sen. Doug Jones is a front-runner for appointment as the United States Attorney General under the upcoming Biden administration. Jones lost his Senate re-election bid in November and will be vacating his seat in January.
Although reports describe Jones as a leading contender for the position, his nomination and appointment as the highest ranking law enforcement official in the country depends on the Biden team’s estimation of the other reported front-running contender for Attorney General, Merrick Garland. Garland is a current federal appeals court judge and former president Barack Obama’s snubbed Supreme Court nominee.
It is worth noting that Jones and President-elect Biden have a long-standing relationship dating back to their first meeting when Jones, as a law student, introduced Biden as an in-class guest speaker. Jones also served as the Alabama co-chair of Biden’s 1988 campaign for president. During Biden's time on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jones was a frequent collaborator. Biden campaigned in support of Jones’ 2017 Senate run as well.
“I promised Doug I’d campaign for him or against him, whichever will help the most,” Biden cracked during a campaign stop.
Since the election, President-elect Biden has faced public pressure to establish a federal government leadership team that is diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. Garland and Jones, both of whom are white, may find resistance to their potential nomination as issues around race and gender remain prominent topics in the national dialogue.
The sitting senator from Alabama, however, may hold a significant advantage over Garland. As an attorney, Jones prosecuted the two surviving Ku Klux Klan terrorists who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, murdering four Black girls and injuring over a dozen churchgoers.
When Jones entered Congress as a Senator, he distinguished his office from those of his Democratic colleagues after hiring Birmingham native Dana Gresham, the only Black chief-of-staff among Senate Democrats. Conversely, Garland’s track record as a moderate judge with past Department of Justice experience and an unsuccessful Supreme Court nominee provides less clear indicators about his disposition toward race and civil rights.
In any case, the incoming Attorney General will inherit a United States Department of Justice that has been reportedly plagued by infighting, partisanship, and personnel instability during the Trump presidency. Civil rights issues have been at the forefront of department criticisms in light of the recent murders of George Floyd, Botham Jean, and Casey Goodson at the hands of American police officers.
Several high ranking DOJ officials have resigned from their posts since 2017. As head of the Department of Justice, current Attorney General William Barr has been accused of politicizing a department that has historically positioned itself as apolitical. Over 2000 former DOJ and FBI officials, representing both major political parties, have called for Barr’s resignation.
Barr was appointed Attorney General after former Alabama politician, Jeff Sessions, was asked by President Trump to resign. Sessions departed the position after months of public and private tension between the White House and DOJ stemming from allegations of Russian election interference during the 2016 election cycle. Last month, Richard Pilger, Director of the Election Crimes Division at the Department of Justice, resigned in protest, after Barr issued changes to Justice Department policy regarding the pursuit of allegations of voting irregularities in the 2020 election.