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U.S. Attorneys Who Have Served Less than Full Four-year Terms, 1981-2006

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Publication Date: February 2007

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Topic: Government (Public officials)


United States attorneys, who prosecute violations of federal law and defend the federal government in civil suits, are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and, once confirmed, serve four-year terms. The President may terminate the appointment of a U.S. attorney at any time. Recent controversy over the termination of seven U.S. attorneys, and the method by which the interim appointments were made to replace them, has focused attention on reasons for departure of U.S. attorneys.

This report provides data on U.S. attorneys who did not complete their full fouryear term after confirmation by the Senate and whose terms did not carry over a change in presidential administration. The data collected employ records of presidential appointment and Senate confirmation of U.S. attorneys, and rely on secondary sources to provide information on reasons U.S. attorneys left office before completion of their four-year terms.

At least 54 U.S. attorneys appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate left office before completion of a four-year term between 1981 and 2006 (not counting those whose tenure was interrupted by a change in presidential administration). Of those 54, 17 left to become Article III federal judges, one left to become a federal magistrate judge, six left to serve in other positions in the executive branch, four sought elective office, two left to serve in state government, one died, and 15 left to enter or return to private practice.

Of the remaining eight U.S. attorneys who left before completing a four-year term without a change in presidential administration, two were apparently dismissed by the President, and three apparently resigned after news reports indicated they had engaged in questionable personal actions. No information was available on the three remaining U.S. attorneys who resigned.

Interim U.S. attorneys are appointed by the Attorney General and serve until the President nominates, and the Senate confirms, a successor. Legislation has been introduced in the 110th Congress (H.R. 580; S. 214) to revert the system of appointment of interim U.S. attorneys to the system in place from 1986 to 2006. Under that system, the appointment of an interim U.S. attorney by the Attorney General expired after 120 days. After that appointment expired, district courts could appoint interim U.S. attorneys who could serve until the President nominated, and the Senate confirmed, a permanent replacement.

This report will be updated as events warrant.


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