David Lat of “Above the Law” decries the failure of the GOP-controlled Senate to confirm nominees for two key positions at the Department of Justice — Eric Dreiband as head of the Civil Rights Division and Jeff Clark as head of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Both were nominated in June 2017. Clark’s nomination was first sent to the Senate floor on August 3 — more than a year ago. Dreiband’s nomination reached the Senate floor two months later.
Both almost certainly have the votes to be confirmed, albeit along largely, or maybe strictly, partisan lines. All that’s required is for Majority Leader McConnell to file motions to invoke cloture.
This he has not done.
In the meantime, the two key divisions in question — Civil Rights and Environment and Natural Resources — suffer. They suffer both in their ordinary, non-political work and in implementing President Trump’s conservative agenda.
As former DOJ Inspector General Michael Bromwich told Carrie Johnson of NPR, “Vacancies impair the smooth and effective functioning of DOJ. It’s not a recipe for good government.” As former attorney general William Barr told Matt Zapotosky of the Washington Post, “To me, what’s happening is reprehensible…. This is unprecedented. Anyone who has worked in an administration knows how damaging it is.”
I spoke with two current Justice Department officials earlier this week, and they echoed these sentiments. “It’s frustrating and disruptive,” one of them said. “The acting leaders are doing a good job, but you always want to have your Senate-confirmed leaders in place. The acting heads can steer the ship, but they can’t make all the big, long-term decisions.”
The excuse for not scheduling votes for Dreiband and Clark is the need to confirm judges. However, cloture motions have been filed for a number of non-judges while Dreiband and Clark have had to cool their heels. There’s more operating here than just the commendable desire to confirm judges.
In any event, with the Senate working in August, there is no reason why Dreiband and Clark can’t be voted on soon. As Lat says:
Although extremely important, judicial confirmations are not the only game in town. Senator McConnell and his colleagues should take a short detour into executive nominations and get Clark, Dreiband, and [Jody] Hunt [the nominee to head the Civil Division] confirmed, so Main Justice can have a full leadership team and move forward with its crucial work.
It seems almost inconceivable that, by the end of President Trump’s second year in office, a Republican-controlled Senate might be unable to provide him with heads for key divisions at the Department of Justice. But unless Mitch McConnell acts soon, that’s what we’re looking at.
It would be a disgrace.