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Senate committee approves bill to prevent 'political' firings of US Attorneys

[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] voted 13-6 on Thursday to send a bill to the Senate floor which would permit US district courts to appoint temporary US Attorneys [DOJ backgrounder] when those spots become vacant, reversing a provision in the Patriot Act reauthorization [JURIST report; HR 3199 text, PDF] that allowed the US attorney general to replace fired US Attorneys indefinitely, thus circumventing the usual Senate confirmation process for those positions. The vote followed a Tuesday Committee hearing [press release] on whether the DOJ is politicizing the hiring and firing of US Attorneys. The Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007 [S 214 text, PDF] amends Section 546 of title 28 of the US Code to read:

The United States district court for a district in which the office of the United States attorney is vacant may appoint a United States attorney to serve until that vacancy is filled. The order of appointment by the court shall be filed with the clerk of the court.
Senate Democrats have alleged that the DOJ has fired seven US Attorneys since the Patriot Act reauthorization in March, several without cause, who have at some point prosecuted friends of the Republican party. During Tuesday's hearing [transcript], Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty denied that the firings were politically motivated [JURIST report], although he did admit that several were fired without cause. AP has more.

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