The Trump Administration Can't Come Up With a List of Good Black Attorneys

Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced questions from the House Judiciary Committee about the lack of diversity among Department of Justice nominees on November 14. Alex Wong/Getty

Civil rights advocates are slamming President Donald Trump about his picks for United States attorneys, saying they lack diversity. The White House announced Friday its ninth wave of nominees for the positions; of the 57 total nominees announced, one was black and three were women.

"These federal prosecutorial positions are critical within the criminal justice system," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit focused on justice for racial and ethnic minorities. "We're...seeing a complete abandonment of a commitment to diversity and a complete failure to think about diversity as one among a number of factors in identifying nominees for critical federal positions."

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Clarke pointed out that in the previous administration, in 2015, about 13 percent of U.S. attorneys were African-American or Latino, and about 30 percent were white. "Under the Obama administration, we saw some efforts to address the historic underrepresentation of African-Americans, Latinos and women for critical positions in the justice system," she said. "Here, we see this administration turning the clock back in every respect."

The Barack Obama administration numbers were closer to the demographics of the total United States workforce. In 2016, 78 percent of working Americans were white and 12 percent were black, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Seventeen percent of the workforce was Hispanic or Latino, 89 percent of which also identified as white. In 2015, women made up 56.7 percent of working Americans.

Clarke largely blamed Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the lack of diversity, and she's not the only one. At a House Judiciary Committee hearing on November 14, Representative Cedric Richmond, who represents part of Louisiana and is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, asked Sessions about the number of Justice Department nominees and senior staff who were black. "I do not have a senior staff member at this time that's an African-American," Sessions responded.

In addition to the U.S. attorneys, who oversee the prosecutions in each of 94 districts, there is a lack of diversity among the nominees for federal judges. Roll Call has reported that as of mid-November, 91 percent of Trump's 58 nominees for district and appeals court judges were white, and 19 percent were women. That cadre of nominees was the least racially diverse since the Ronald Reagan administration, and the most male since former President George H.W. Bush was in the White House, according to Roll Call.

Justice Department watchdogs have taken issue with Trump's judicial nominees for reasons other than their lack of diversity. Groups including People for the American Way, the National Women's Law Center, Lambda Legal, Alliance for Justice and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights have critiqued judge nominee Jeff Mateer after he compared the treatment of Christians under the Obama administration to that of people in Nazi Germany. Mateer also once said that transgender children showed evidence of "Satan's plan."

Gregory Katsas, another pick for judge, is a White House lawyer who worked on Trump's executive orders and advised the administration on the Russia investigation. A third nominee for judge, Brett Talley, was a paranormal researcher who has never tried a case in court and did not disclose to the Senate Judiciary Committee that his wife is a White House lawyer.

It's clear that AG #JeffSessions still doesn't understand the importance of diversity and inclusion within the @TheJusticeDept.

— Rep Cedric Richmond (@RepRichmond) November 15, 2017

"The breakneck speed at which the Republican-controlled Senate and the administration are moving forward with judicial nominees makes it more difficult for us to fully vet and consider nominees for lifetime positions," Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Newsweek in early November. "A number of recently nominated candidates have said things that go well beyond what could be considered a judicial temperament."

Starting under former President Dwight Eisenhower, the American Bar Association worked with the White House on vetting judicial nominees. In March, the Trump administration told the association it would no longer follow that practice. The lawyers' association has continued offering guidance, and as of November 14 had deemed two picks to be unqualified. The association said another eight might be unqualified, but the committee deciding did not reach a unanimous decision.