Press Releases

Senators Feinstein, Schumer, Baucus and Tester Announce Plans to Introduce Bill to Restore Residency Requirements for U.S. Attorneys

-Legislation would correct second area where DOJ added provisions in last year’s PATRIOT Act Reauthorizaiton -

Washington, DC – On Monday, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) will introduce legislation to ensure that U.S. Attorneys reside in the districts they are appointed to serve.

The legislation will seek to reverse a second, little-known provision inserted into last year’s PATRIOT Act reauthorization at the request of the Department of Justice.  The provision changed current law to allow U.S. attorneys to live outside of their districts if the Attorney General assigns them dual or additional responsibilities.   

The United States Attorney Local Residency Restoration Act would restore the residency requirement for sitting U.S. Attorneys.  It would require that U.S. Attorneys reside in the district they are appointed, and assistant United States attorneys reside in the district for which they are appointed or within 25 miles thereof.

Department of Justice officials have acknowledged that the residency provision was inserted into the PATRIOT Act to allow U.S. Attorney Bill Mercer to live in Washington, D.C. and continue to serve as both the Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for Montana.  He has since assumed the position of Acting Associate Attorney General, the number three position at the Department of Justice. 

“U.S. Attorneys cannot do their jobs adequately from Washington, D.C.  The position requires a huge commitment, and each district deserves a highly-qualified U.S. Attorney focused on the needs of the local area and fighting crime and terrorism in their state,” Senator Feinstein said.  “U.S. Attorneys serve the residents of their district.  They should not be allowed to work full-time in Washington while holding a U.S. Attorney position.”

In recent months, the Senate Judiciary Committee has launched a major investigation into the unprecedented efforts by officials in the Department of Justice and Bush Administration to fire eight U.S. Attorneys.  These actions have undermined the independence and accountability of U.S. Attorneys. 

This new information pertaining to the residency requirement follows the revelation that a provision had been inserted without notice into last year’s PATRIOT Act reauthorization.  That provision changed the law so that if a vacancy arises, the Attorney General may appoint a replacement for an indefinite period of time – thus completely avoiding the Senate confirmation process. 

Senator Feinstein authored legislation that would restore the law to require interim appointments by the Attorney General for only 120 days, and then the district courts can appoint the interim U.S. Attorney if a permanent replacement has not been nominated and confirmed.  This bill was approved by the Senate in late March. 
U.S. Attorneys currently not serving in districts

U.S. Attorney Mercer has served a full-time position in Washington D.C. for nearly two years, while still maintaining the position of U.S. Attorney for Montana.   And as a result of his obligations in Washington, he has only been in his state for three or four days a month. 

In addition to Bill Mercer, several U.S. Attorneys currently serve full-time positions in Washington while retaining their jobs in their home-states, including:  

  • Michael J. Sullivan, the U.S. attorney in Boston, has been serving as the Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington for the past six months;
  • Mary Beth Buchanan, U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, is also the acting director of the Office of Violence Against Women, and prior to that she served as Director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys; and
  • Kevin O'Connor, U.S. attorney in Connecticut, is also serving as an Associate Deputy Attorney General coordinating anti-gang policies.