Commentary: Confirming Christopher Schroeder for DOJ OLP

Special to McClatchy NewspapersApril 21, 2010 

In the coming days, Senate Democrats will seek a floor vote, possibly after invoking cloture, on Christopher Schroeder to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy (OLP) in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Because Schroeder is eminently qualified and President Barack Obama needs permanent appointees to fill upper-echelon posts, such as OLP, which have so many important public policy responsibilities, the Senate must promptly confirm Christopher Schroeder, who was first nominated in June 2009.

The DOJ Office of Legal Policy has major responsibility for setting public policy in numerous areas for the Justice Department and to some extent for the Executive Branch. In fields ranging across a broad spectrum from terrorism to Native Americans to federal judicial selection, the Office of Legal Policy studies, formulates and implements DOJ policy.

Federal judicial selection is one critical area in which OLP must have a permanent leader. The lower federal courts now experience 103 vacancies out of 858 appellate and district judgships, while a Supreme Court nomination and confirmation process are imminent. OLP helps the White House screen many candidates for lower federal court vacancies.

The Office also helps prepare virtually all nominees for the confirmation process in assembling relevant materials for Senate review and in appearing to testify at Judiciary Committee hearings. OLP has typically played a major role in assisting Supreme Court nominees navigate the confirmation process.

Schroeder, a Law Professor at Duke University School of Law for three decades and Director of its Program in Public Policy, is extremely well qualified to discharge these critical responsibilities. Schroeder is the co-author of one of the leading casebooks on environmental law and policy, titled Environmental Regulation, and has written dozens of valuable articles on important public policy issues that OLC confronts.

Schroeder has served as Acting Assistant Attorney General in DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. He has also served in a number of capacities for the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Chief Counsel, over two decades. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a longtime Judiciary Committee member, cited Schroeder's valuable Committee service as a reason why he voted for Schroeder in Committee and urged that his colleagues do so. On February 4, the panel approved Schroeder 16-3 and sent his name to the Senate floor.

Numerous Democrats and Republicans have strongly endorsed Schroeder, calling for his expeditious confirmation. They include Seth Waxman and Walter Dellinger, who served as Solicitors General in the Clinton Administration. Avid proponents also encompass Ken Starr, Solicitor General for President George H. W. Bush, who characterized Schroeder as a "thoughtful and measured person" who deeply understands the "appropriate role of the co-ordinate branches." Arthur Culvahouse, who served as White House Counsel for President Ronald Reagan and now chairs O'Melveny and Myers where Schroeder has worked part time, lauded the attorney's "keen analysis, his great maturity and judgment and his ability to work" constructively with others.

Of compelling importance over the next several months will be Schroeder's experience working on a number of Supreme Court confirmation processes. Schroeder's Judiciary Committee experience should concomitantly serve him well in helping to fill the 100-plus lower court vacancies and in working on many crucial issues for which OLP has lead or major responsibility.

In the days ahead, when the Senate considers Christopher Schroeder as the DOJ Assistant Attorney General of OLP, Democrats and Republicans should vote to confirm Schroeder. President Obama, DOJ and the country need to have this critical policy position filled with an experienced, distinguished public servant like Schroeder.


Carl Tobias is the Williams Professor at the University of Richmond.

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