Women Make History as Nominees for United States Attorney—Why it Matters

BLFF Team | Jul 29, 2021


On July 26, the Biden administration announced eight nominations for United States Attorney positions, including three women who will make history: Rachael Rollins, the district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, who would be the first Black woman to serve as U.S. attorney in that state, Trini Ross, a veteran federal prosecutor, who would be the first Black woman U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, and Vanessa Waldref, who is currently an environmental lawyer at the Department of Justice, and who would be the first woman to run the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Washington.

Though U.S. attorneys typically don’t decide which cases to prosecute or get involved in routine cases, the position can still be influential. A U.S. attorney identifies the priorities for their office, and also may play a role in high profile cases. There are 93 U.S. attorneys who oversee 94 U.S. attorney offices, and the appointments are managed through the Department of Justice.

President Biden pledged to have the most diverse administration ever, so it is consistent that a number of his nominees for U.S. Attorney were women and people of color. Other history-making nominations include four men who would be the first Black U.S. attorney in their district: Erek Barron, who would be the first Black U.S. attorney in the District of Maryland; Zachary Myers, who would be the first Black U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Indiana; and Clifford Johnson, who would be the first Black U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Indiana; and Nicholas Brown, who would be the first Black lawyer to run the Western District of Washington.

Like many other offices, historically the position of United States attorney has been dominated by white men. U.S. attorneys are appointed by presidents and often recommended by a senator in their home state. Prior to Biden’s nominations, only 7 out of 93 U.S. attorney positions across the country were held by women. Now 24 out of the 93 U.S. Attorney positions are held by women.

Having more women in these positions will continue to challenge the perception that women are not strong. We have seen other women in politics—most notably former Arizona governor and former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and former Congresswoman Susan Brooks —succeed in running for political office after serving as a United States attorney. Having a background in law enforcement/justice is an effective way for women to establish strength with voters, which Barbara Lee Family Foundation research shows is important when seeking executive office.

If these barrier-breaking nominees are confirmed, we will be watching to see how they bring their lived experience to influence their positions.

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