Attorney General Nominations Since the Reagan Administration
Maeve P. Carey, Analyst in Government Organization and Management (firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-7775)
Michael Greene, Information Research Specialist (email@example.com, 7-9188)
December 4, 2014 (IN10192)
On November 9, 2014, President Obama announced his intention to nominate U.S. Attorney Loretta E.
Lynch to replace Eric H. Holder Jr. as Attorney General (AG). Holder reportedly plans to remain in the
position until his successor is confirmed. Lynch's nomination was received in the Senate and referred to
the Judiciary Committee on November 13. Table 1 presents information concerning the consideration
of each Attorney General nomination since 1981, including the date the nomination was received in the
Senate, the date(s) the Judiciary Committee held a hearing, the date the committee reported the
nomination, the date of final dispositive action by the full Senate, and the total number of days that
passed from when the nomination was received until its final disposition.
Presidents have nominated a total of 11 individuals, including Lynch, for the position of AG since the
beginning of the Reagan Administration in 1981. Of the 10 nominees prior to Lynch, 9 were confirmed.
The one exception was the nomination of Zoe Baird, which was received by the Senate on January 20,
1993. Baird's nomination was withdrawn by President Clinton after it became apparent her nomination
would face opposition because she had hired an undocumented immigrant couple to serve as her
family's nanny and driver. After two days of hearings on the nomination on January 19 and 21, 1993—
the day before and the day after Clinton's inauguration—Baird asked the President to withdraw her
nomination, saying that the controversy had damaged her ability to head the Justice Department. The
President withdrew the nomination on January 26.
The duration of time between nomination and confirmation for the other nominations, however,
suggests that Presidents were awarded deference at the outset of their Administration for AG
nominees, as is often the case with Cabinet nominees generally (for more information, see CRS Report
R40119, Filling Advice and Consent Positions at the Outset of a New Administration ). The
nominations that proceeded through the Senate most quickly were William F. Smith (2 days from
receipt to confirmation) and John Ashcroft (3 days from receipt to confirmation). Those nominees were
the first AGs named by Reagan and George W. Bush, respectively. Thirteen days elapsed from the date
of nomination of Eric H. Holder Jr. until his confirmation. One factor that allowed these three
nominations to move quickly upon receipt was that the Senate made use of its informal process for
consideration of Cabinet and other top-level nominees prior to the swearing in of a new President and
his subsequent formal submission of nominees. Janet Reno was also confirmed quickly early in the
Clinton Administration (13 days from receipt to confirmation), although due to the withdrawal of the
Baird nomination, Reno's was the second AG nomination submitted by President Clinton after the start
of his term.
The duration of time between receipt of an AG nomination and confirmation is generally longer for
nominations received later during a presidential term. The nomination of Richard L. Thornburgh by
President Reagan in July of his last year in office was confirmed 17 days after its receipt, and the
nomination of Michael B. Mukasey by George W. Bush was received in September of 2007 and
confirmed 48 days later.
The two nominees whose Senate consideration period was the longest—Edwin Meese III and Alberto
R. Gonzales—were both nominated during presidential transitions to a second term in office. (For more
information on these "inter-term transitions" see CRS Report R42963, Nominations to Cabinet
Positions During Inter-Term Transitions Since 1984.) Both of those nominations were received
in the Senate and returned to the President at the end of the Congress under Senate rules, not having
been confirmed. In both cases, the Presidents renominated Meese and Gonzales at the beginning of
the next Congress, and they were confirmed.
For both Meese and Gonzales, the number of days that elapsed since the nomination had been
submitted to the Senate appears to have been affected by the particular circumstances surrounding
that nomination. The confirmation of Meese during the Reagan Administration was delayed by an
investigation related to the nominee's financial relationships with some individuals who had obtained
federal jobs with his assistance. Meese was eventually cleared of criminal misconduct, and when the
President subsequently resubmitted the nomination at the start of the new Congress, he was confirmed
51 days later by a vote of 63-31. When President George W. Bush nominated Gonzales to be Attorney
General, some Senators expressed a desire for more information about the role the nominee might
have had in his previous position as White House Counsel in "formulating the Administration's policy on
the treatment and interrogation of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas." The Senate adjourned sine die
on December 8, 2004, having met on 8 days since the nomination was received on November 16, and
the nomination was returned to the President under Senate rules. After the President submitted
another nomination for Gonzales in the new Congress on January 4, 2005, the nomination was
confirmed 30 days later, 60-36.
Of the 11 AG nominees reviewed, 1 other, in addition to Lynch, was submitted during a lame-duck
session of Congress. As discussed above, President George W. Bush nominated Gonzales on November
16, 2004, which was the first day of a 22-day lame-duck session that lasted until the Senate adjourned
sine die on December 8, 2004. Although the first nomination was returned to the President under
Senate rules at the end of the session, the nomination submitted at the start of the next Congress was
confirmed. More information on Cabinet nominations in lame-duck sessions of Congress can be found
in a CRS general distribution memorandum by Henry B. Hogue, Michael Greene, and Maeve P. Carey.
Copies are available upon request.
More detailed timelines, calculations, and discussions of AG nominees since the Reagan Administration
are available in a CRS general distribution memorandum by Michael Greene and Maeve P. Carey, copies
of which are available upon request.
Table 1. Nominations to the Position of Attorney General
Reagan Administration through Obama Administration
received Date(s) of
William P. Barr 10/25/91 11/12/91
reported disposition disposition confirmation
01/16/81 01/22/81 Confirmed
01/04/05 01/06/05 01/26/05 02/03/05
09/21/07 10/17/07 11/06/07 11/08/07
01/20/09 01/15/09 01/28/09 02/02/09
Eric H. Holder
Mean number of days from receipt in
Senate to confirmation
Median number of days from receipt in
Senate to confirmation
Source: Data in this table were compiled from the nominations database of the
Legislative Information System (LIS) at http://www.lis.gov/nomis/.
**Information in the table is current as of December 4, 2014. As of that date, no
action had been taken on the Lynch nomination.
a. This figure was calculated using Edwin Meese III's first nomination date of February
3, 1984, as opposed to his second nomination on January 3, 1985. Meese's first
nomination was automatically returned to the President at the end of the 98 th
Congress under Senate rules. President Reagan nominated him again at the start of
the 99 th Congress.
b. This figure was calculated using Alberto R. Gonzales's first nomination date of
November 16, 2004, as opposed to his second nomination on January 4, 2005.
Gonzales's first nomination was automatically returned to the President at the end of
the 108 th Congress under Senate rules. President G. W. Bush nominated him again at
the start of the 109 th Congress.