Jessie Liu
Credit: MSNBC/YouTube Screen Capture

The associate attorney general position is the number three spot at the Department of Justice. There has not been a Senate-confirmed person in that job since February 2018, when Rachel Brand left the administration for a much better-paying job at Walmart. Somewhat surprisingly based on his gender and racial attitudes, President Trump appointed an Asian-American woman to fill the post.

Jesse Liu has been the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia since September 2017. She went to Harvard and then earned her law degree from Yale. During the George W. Bush administration, she served in the DOJ as deputy chief of staff in the National Security Division, counsel to the deputy attorney general, and deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division. When Samuel Alito was nominated to the Supreme Court, she joined dozens of other Yale Law graduates in signing a letter of support for his confirmation.

Nonetheless, Lieu withdrew her name from consideration for the job. Some are saying it is because a group of Republican senators don’t trust her to be anti-choice, and the position of associate attorney general has responsibility for health care-related issues among many other things. It’s not clear why these senators don’t trust her, but it’s probably not the reason her nomination was spiked.

NPR is reporting that Senator Mike Lee of Utah had some sort of “shouting match” with Attorney General William Barr over Liu’s nomination. Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Senator Lee told the Washington Monthly that NPR’s characterization of the conversation was false—and that Lee did not shout.

Lee chairs the antitrust subcommittee in the Senate, where Samuel Alito’s son Philip serves on the staff. Apparently, Philip has a problem with Ms. Liu.

Four lawyers familiar with the matter said the stumbling block for Liu was a broader concern about her conservatism — specifically, her stance on women’s reproductive rights. Interest groups had begun drafting letters to senators about their fears that Liu would not support restrictions on abortion. Another key factor: Earlier in her career, Liu had an affiliation with the National Association of Women Lawyers, which sent a letter opposing the nomination of Justice Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

Carroll said that Alito recused himself from all staff conversations with Lee vis-a-vis Liu.

Nevertheless, there remains the appearance that the Alito family might have remembered very well which organizations did not support the justice’s Supreme Court nomination.

That would be a petty and stupid reason for denying her the position. Also, it shouldn’t be legal to deny a woman a job because she doesn’t support restricting her own constitutional rights.

In any case, it doesn’t look like the third in command is going to be a very well-qualified Asian-American woman. They’ll probably find someone with a law degree from Pat Robertson University instead.

An original version of this blog post said that Trump withdrew Liu’s nomination. In fact, she withdrew herself from consideration for the DOJ post. The piece has been corrected. We regret the error.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at