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Blog Post | February 2, 2023

Biden Appears to Heed Advocates’ Demands, Seek New Nominee for US Attorney in Eastern District of Tennessee

Department of JusticeExecutive BranchGovernance
Biden Appears to Heed Advocates’ Demands, Seek New Nominee for US Attorney in Eastern District of Tennessee

In a Judiciary Committee hearing last Thursday, Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) seemed to assert that Casey T. Arrowood, President Biden’s initial pick for US Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, would not be renominated in the new session of Congress. 

Senator Durbin responded to Senator Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) frustration that Arrowood had not been renominated by saying, “[I]t is the White House’s decision on renomination and they have decided at this point not to renominate [Arrowood]. I can’t change that, that is the reality that we face.”

In theory, President Biden could still renominate Arrowood, as he has not yet named an alternative nominee. But as Bloomberg reported after the Jan. 26th hearing, “a Senate aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the White House made it clear to Blackburn earlier this week that it doesn’t plan to [renominate Arrowood].”

Revolving Door Project applauds the Biden administration’s apparent decision not to renominate Arrowood – a decision presumably made in response to advocacy groups’ outcry, echoed by multiple Democratic senators, over Arrowood’s racist, xenophobic track record and role in prosecuting Dr. Anming Hu. 

Dr. Hu is a Chinese-Canadian Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. As head prosecutor on the case against Dr. Hu, Arrowood led the Trump DOJ’s attempt to accuse him of being a spy for the Chinese government. 

A judge eventually threw out the case against Dr. Hu, citing the utter lack of evidence to support the government’s case. Nonetheless, Arrowood’s decision to lead on the case raises concerns about his discretion, and about his willingness to abuse the Justice Department’s power in the future, if he were elevated to the role of US Attorney. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Senator Blackburn rejected Arrowood’s opponents’ concerns out of hand in her Judiciary Committee comments. She cited Arrowood’s military service and his tenure in the Obama DOJ to describe him as “a well-qualified good man who has served our nation well.” She further stated, “there is absolutely zero evidence that Mr. Arrowood acted in anything but an ethical and professional manner in exercising his duty as a prosecutor in that case. My colleague’s alleged concerns are…baseless.” 

Conveniently, Senator Blackburn declined to mention a single detail about the case, or to name the “colleague” (presumably Senator Mazie Hirono, D-HI) whose concerns she so quickly dismissed. She also erroneously stated that the unnamed “case” that created controversy over Arrowood started under the Obama DOJ – a claim we could find no support for, as the charges and subsequent arrest of Dr. Hu all seemed to originate in February 2020, as part of a Trump DOJ “initiative” to target researchers of Chinese descent.  

Senator Blackburn proceeded to threaten to hold up any and all future US attorney and US marshal nominations if she perceived them to be less qualified than Arrowood (whose qualifications she clearly is not willing to question). This threat is particularly frustrating in light of the delayed renomination of Sopen Shah, a well-qualified attorney whose nomination to be US attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin has also been delayed. The controversy over Shah’s nomination began with Republican Senator Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) complaints that Shah tweeted criticism of Johnson’s election denialism. 

Johnson’s selfish, ego-based protest against Shah’s nomination has nothing in common with Senator Hirono and advocacy groups’ concerns about Arrowood’s clear record of racial bias. Being frustrated that your representative supported an attempted coup should not disqualify someone from being US attorney; using the power of the DOJ to pursue racist prosecutions, should.

RDP eagerly awaits President Biden’s announcement of an alternative US attorney nominee for the Eastern District of Tennessee, much as we hope the administration will not acquiesce to Republican senators’ petty concerns and political hostage-taking. 

Image Credit: “File:U.S. Department of Justice headquarters, August 12, 2006.jpg” is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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