As President Joe Biden enters his third year in office, Mississippi still lacks his appointments for two U.S. attorneys, two U.S. marshals and a federal judge in the northern district.
Biden made nominations for four of the positions in the fall, but Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith did not return “blue slips” — the longstanding process by which home senators approve the president’s picks before Senate confirmation hearings are held.
Biden will have to resubmit nominations to the new Congress.
One of the appointments in limbo is Todd Gee for the U.S. attorney in the Southern District. If confirmed, Gee will inherit the ongoing welfare fraud investigation, one of the largest public corruption cases in state history. He currently serves as the deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, which prosecutes cases of public corruption, such as bribery of public officials.
Three people connected to the fraud have pleaded guilty to federal charges and have agreed to aid the prosecution in its ongoing probe, which is unlikely to take further shape until a permanent U.S. attorney is in place.
While naming Gee in September, Biden also nominated Michael Purnell, lieutenant and executive officer of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol, and Dale Bell, a professional protection officer in the private sector, to serve as the north and south U.S. marshals, respectively.
In October, Biden selected Lowndes County District Attorney Scott Colom to replace U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mills, who entered senior status in 2021. Hyde-Smith and Wicker have not indicated whether they support the nominations.
The president has not selected a U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi.
Biden, who received nearly 540,000 votes in Mississippi, has failed to fill many vacant federal positions across the South and in states with two Republican senators.
“It’s more complicated now than it used to be,” said Trent Lott, Mississippi’s U.S. senator from 1989 to 2007. “You have a Democratic president, you have two Republican senators, and you have a Democratic congressman, only one …The bottom line is, because you’ve got the divided government, it’s kind of slowing down things to a slow walk trying to come up with people that the Democrats like that the senators can accept.”
Lott recalled entering the Senate in the late 1980’s and consulting longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who told the incoming senator, “Elections have consequences.”
Regardless of party affiliations, if the nominee is qualified, you should vote aye, Lott remembered Cochran saying.
“The atmosphere in Washington these days does not contribute to that kind of atmosphere, quite frankly. It’s very, very partisan, very divided,” Lott said.
The U.S. Southern District has lacked a U.S. attorney for much of the federal welfare investigation, which began when State Auditor Shad White turned over information gathered during his own investigation to federal authorities after making arrests in February of 2020. Former U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst resigned in January of 2021 and interim U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca has led the office since.
Another empty seat exists on the traditionally conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Appels, which covers Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana and represents the last step before an appeal reaches the U.S. Supreme Court. There are eight district court judge vacancies in these states, none of which has pending nominations.
Across the country there are 87 total judge vacancies and 23 pending nominations.