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There is broad agreement that federal prosecutors should not use their power to pursue partisan political objectives, but there is stark disagreement about how to prevent them from abusing their power in this way. Geoffrey Berman, a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, recently argued that U.S. Attorneys should have complete autonomy and independence from the Attorney General and administration. Attorney General Bill Barr, in contrast, has insisted that Attorneys General should have full control over prosecutors so the administration can be held politically accountable. Neither view fully addresses the problem. Barr minimizes the significant risk that the Attorney General will undermine the interests of justice by doing the bidding of the administration, and Berman ignores the possibility that U.S. Attorneys will act on their own inappropriate political bias.

We propose a system of checks and balances in which prosecuting a politically sensitive case would require approval from both the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney. Recognizing Berman’s argument that the greatest threat of politicization comes from the Attorney General, we offer two additional proposals to help preserve the independence and integrity of U.S. Attorneys. First, Congress should clarify that the President and Attorney General lack authority to remove and replace U.S. Attorneys who are appointed by district courts prior to the confirmation of presidential nominees; and second, the Attorney General should be restricted from handpicking partisan prosecutors to oversee politically-charged investigations and prosecutions. While there is no simple solution to the politicization of federal prosecution, restructuring prosecutorial and political power within the DOJ to reduce partisanship, both real and apparent, is, as Berman recognizes, an important component.


Denver Law Review, Vol. 100, Issue 4 (2023), pp. 817-846