What Biden had initially anticipated would be announced by Christmas Day, has stretched into the new year. That breaks with recent norms for an incoming president to make attorney general among his first Cabinet picks. It’s also heightened the calls for Biden to address issues of diversity and racial injustice through his selection to lead the department.
Not only is it the most prominent job left for Biden to fill, the attorney general also has purview over many of the issues feeding racial injustice.
Tensions are particularly high since, despite all the lobbying from outside groups, three of the top remaining frontrunners to lead the Justice Department are all White, and two of them are men.
Transition officials have told CNN they are in regular touch with civil rights groups about their attorney general selection and the Department of Justice more broadly, and that they value their perspectives and advice on both topics.
The diversity push is coming from a wide roster of civil rights activists from organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE). All told CNN they have been in constant contact with the Biden transition team to dole out hundreds of recommendations of people they’ve vetted for positions throughout the administration.
“We are recommending over 80 people for various (leadership) positions” at the Department of Justice and Secret Service among other law enforcement agencies, NOBLE President Lynda Williams told CNN.
Williams acknowledged that the next attorney general may not be and does not need to be a person of color, but if he or she is, then it will be “a bonus.”
In the end, Williams said the nominee must understand “they represent something larger than themselves” and that there are major issues regarding race in this country, “even if it does not sit right at their feet.”
Among the most prominent voices for a culture change at the DOJ has been Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network. In an early December meeting with Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and their team, Sharpton voiced his preference that the next attorney general be Black, and have experience within the federal government with a concentration on civil rights issues.
Sharpton however seemed to give an implicit nod to Jones recently when he followed up mid-December comments pushing for a Black attorney general by saying he could also accept a White candidate with “a proven civil rights background that’s going to handle this heightened racist bigoted atmosphere.”
Jones was the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama under President Bill Clinton when he successfully prosecuted members of the Ku Klux Klan who were responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963.
A year of strife
Following a year marked by racial protests and strife, calls for federal charges and investigations into the police shootings that sparked widespread protests this summer largely went unanswered. Just days after George Floyd’s death, then-Attorney General William Barr said Floyd’s death had “driven home” a longstanding breakdown in the criminal justice system, and Barr vowed to “find constructive solutions” in the weeks and months ahead “so that Mr. Floyd’s death will not be in vain.”
But little reform has occurred.
That investigation, along with several other probes launched this summer will likely be among the first issues many expect the next attorney general to confront immediately
Last week, the Justice Department drew renewed outcry when it announced there was insufficient evidence for federal charges surrounding the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a Black child in…