By Tierney Sneed
President Joe Biden saw the number of Senate-confirmed members of his Justice Department leadership team nearly double Thursday, with the upper chamber approving four nominees to critical positions.
Biden’s picks to lead the DOJ’s National Security Division, Office of Legal Counsel and Office of Legal Policy were all confirmed in floor votes Thursday, as was solicitor general nominee Elizabeth Prelogar, who will be the administration’s chief lawyer in cases before the US Supreme Court.
“All of them, imminently qualified, deep experience and strong credentials, and they understand the importance of DOJ independence,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said ahead of procedural votes earlier this week.
Prelogar’s confirmation by a 53-36 vote comes just as the Biden administration prepares to argue a pivotal case before the Supreme Court, with its arguments Monday in the DOJ’s challenge to Texas’ six-week abortion ban.
Prelogar, an alum the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team who spent several years at the department before that investigation, was named as Biden’s choice for the post in August, just weeks before the Supreme Court’s new term was to start. Biden’s slowness in announcing her nomination raised eyebrows in the legal community, as she had been serving as acting solicitor general since the beginning of his administration. Still, she moved quickly through the committee process, where two Republicans joined Democrats in supporting her nomination.
Likewise, the nomination of Matthew Olsen to lead DOJ’s National Security Division advanced out of the Judiciary Committee by a 13-9 vote. Olsen, an executive for Uber at the time his nomination was announced, had previously served in the department for nearly 18 years. He also did a stint as general counsel for the National Security Agency and was the director of the National Counterterrorism Center for three years during the Obama administration.
The Senate confirmed Olsen to the role — which deals with some of the most sensitive matters handled by the department — by a 53-45 vote.
Christopher Schroeder, as the newly confirmed assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, will also have several delicate matters landing on his desk. The OLC acts as the legal advice shop for the rest of the executive branch.
Under the Trump administration, the office was scrutinized for an interpretation of anti-nepotism law that greenlit Jared Kushner’s hiring to the White House, as well as its handling of a whistleblower’s report about former President Donald Trump’s infamous Ukraine call.
Now, the OLC is giving the White House legal advice on how to deal with the privilege issues that are arising as the lawmakers who are investigating the January 6 attack seek testimony and documents from former Trump advisers.
Schroeder has been serving as acting head of OLC and was its Senate-confirmed head under President Barack Obama, after also serving as a top attorney in the office during the Clinton administration. He was confirmed by a 56-41 vote.
Hampton Dellinger, the new chief of DOJ Office of Legal Policy who was confirmed by a 53-37 vote, has previously been involved in high-profile fights as a private attorney representing the US Women’s soccer team in a gender discrimination case against the World Cup over the use of artificial turf.
He also worked on a lawsuit seeking the removal of Confederate statutes in North Carolina. He will now lead the office that helps vet judicial nominees, while also helping to steer the regulatory process of the executive branch.
The four freshly confirmed appointees join Attorney General Merrick Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and the assistant attorneys general for the criminal, civil rights and environmental divisions.
But the administration still has several key department posts to fill with Senate-confirmed appointees.
Jonathan Kanter, Biden’s nominee to lead DOJ’s antitrust division, advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. A nominee for assistant attorney general for the department’s tax division has yet to be named — leaving vacant a position that has lacked a Senate confirmed appointee for more than seven years — while Biden’s initial choice to lead the civil division, Javier Guzman, withdrew himself from consideration for personal reasons.
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