The news that longtime Attorney General Eric Holder would resign touched off a lot of speculation about his replacement. Many of the candidates suggested by the media have weaknesses, or other jobs to pursue. A tough fight is looming, regardless of what happens in 2014. Obama needs to consider nominating a Republican, with executive experience.
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli seems to top most pundit lists, but he's not such a great choice. His argument on behalf of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) was widely panned, even though the ACA was surprisingly upheld as constitutional anyway. For a position most likely to be in the firestorm, he's not the person for the job, even if he's regarded as having a sharp legal mind. That's what advisers are for.
Kamala Harris would be a popular pick, but not a good political one. Most people see Harris as an up-and-comer. The California Attorney General would be a better choice for the Democrats for California Governor in 2018 as Jerry Brown exits the stage (or to oppose a Republican if Brown falters). She would be a smart choice to replace a retiring Dianne Feinstein or Barbara Boxer, both of which entered the U.S. Senate in 1992.
James Cole, the Deputy Attorney General, would be a logical choice to step in for his former boss. But Cole was the subject of a brutal confirmation hearing. Republicans blocked a vote on his confirmation, and he was in judicial limbo for a long time while the Senate battled over whether he should get a hearing. Even when he slipped through, it was later revealed that he was the one who authorized the subpoena to get the Associated Press phone records. That's sure to make any nomination hearings pretty messy.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is likely to be on the short list, since he already served in the Justice Department back in the 1990s. But that would require two tough confirmation hearings for two open cabinet positions. It could be even tougher if the process drags into 2015, when the GOP is sure to be a lot stronger.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse used to be Rhode Island's Attorney General. And he's already well-known among his colleagues. But his absence would open up a seat for a Democratic Party having to defend way too many seats, thanks to Senate retirements. Even in a safe blue state like Rhode Island, that's more money and effort the party doesn't have for a special election in 2014 or early 2015.
Kathryn Ruemmler would be a good choice. She was the White House Counsel and former Justice Department official, who helped prosecute the Enron executives. But she's not as well known. Besides, serving as Obama's lawyer can be tough, especially with cases like the president's actions in the IRS affair.
But picking a Republican makes a lot more sense. And Barack Obama's choice should be former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas. Douglas served from 2003 through 2011. Despite being the chief executive of a blue state, his popularity ratings were sky high. And he's got a good working relationship with Obama, being the first governor (Democrat or Republican) to meet with the president. And Douglas also chaired the National Governor's Association during a successful time for the GOP, between 2009 and 2010.
Obama has already appointed Republicans to his cabinet (Ray LaHood, John McHugh, Robert Gates). This would give him a candidate who would be easily confirmed, and send the signal that the president still wants to work with the GOP for his last two years, putting someone in charge of the Justice Department with executive experience.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com.