Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is putting his weight behind three Black attorneys to become top federal prosecutors in New York.
Schumer said Tuesday that he is recommending Damian Williams to be the next U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, one of the most coveted and powerful posts in the country given that its purview includes Wall Street and parts of New York City.
Schumer also named Breon Peace as his preferred candidate for U.S. attorney for the Eastern District — which spans Long Island and parts of New York City — and Trini Ross for the Western District of New York.
While the decisions are ultimately President Joe Biden’s to make, Schumer’s imprimatur makes them the favorites to be nominated. If confirmed, Williams would be the first Black man to hold the Southern District’s top job. He has worked in the office since 2012 and presently oversees its office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud task force.
“Damian Williams has tremendous legal acumen, is deeply experienced in the Southern District, has tried significant cases and has a strong commitment to equal justice and civil rights under the law,” Schumer said in a statement. “He is ready to take the helm to steer the Southern District forward into a bright future.”
In addition to handling major financial prosecutions, the office is also regularly involved in other high-profile or sensitive cases, such as several that orbit around former President Donald Trump and his business dealings. It also has a deeply rooted independent streak that sets it apart from other branches of the Department of Justice and periodically engenders friction with Washington.
During his presidency, Trump sought to install SEC Chair Jay Clayton to lead the office, but the effort collapsed as the then-U.S. attorney — Geoffrey Berman — initiated a standoff by refusing to resign.
The episode got messier as then-Attorney General William Barr tried to replace Berman with the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. The maneuver sparked fierce resistance from the legal community and congressional Democrats. Barr ultimately relented and allowed Berman’s preferred successor — Audrey Strauss, the office’s top career prosecutor — to take over after Berman stepped aside last summer.
Schumer, who faces reelection next year and a potential primary challenge from the left, hailed his picks as historic. Ross, who would be the first Black woman to hold the post, works in the inspector general’s office at the National Science Foundation and previously worked as a prosecutor in the Western District attorney’s office for more than two decades.
Peace, a partner and white-collar defense lawyer at the firm Cleary Gottlieb, also previously worked in the Eastern District attorney’s office.
“All three of these superb and accomplished attorneys have dedicated their careers to equal justice under the law and will bring a passion for the rule of law, civil rights and justice to their respective posts, as well as profound integrity and expertise to their offices,” Schumer said.
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