Months ago, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to warn against confirming Anita Gupta for Associate Attorney General, the #3 position at the Department of Justice. He said of the nominee, “She’s unfit for that role.” But thanks to Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Gupta was confirmed by a vote of 51-49 on April 21, 2021. Cotton’s opinion has not improved in the intervening months. Since Cotton sits on the Senate’s powerful Judiciary Committee, he has mounted a boycott campaign on Biden administration appointees – all because of Gupta’s official actions and inactions.
ACLU vs. Deputy U.S. Marshals
Deputy U.S. Marshals Chad Skaggs, Zak Thompson, Edwin Maldonado, and Alexander Penuela served in Portland, OR, during the Antifa/BLM riots of July 2020. The ACLU is suing the law enforcement officers for their conduct during that civil unrest. That’s not uncommon, but what’s unusual is the Department of Justice’s refusal to aid the legal defense of the four. Gupta is in charge of the DOJ’s civil division, and it’s her call to grant or deny this help, which ordinarily is given. The stakes are high for the marshals, whose defense will be financially crushing if they must bear it alone.
At least eight Biden administration nominees are being held up by Cotton’s action: four U.S. attorney nominations awaiting votes on the Senate floor, and two U.S. attorneys and two U.S. marshals in the Judiciary Committee. The Democrats’ chief objection to Cotton’s blocking move was its irrelevance to a vote on the nominees. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said:
“[T]here were a lot of things I disagreed with [from] the Trump Justice Department – many, many things – many, many things — but never once did I think about holding up the U.S. attorney of Arkansas or of Arizona or of Illinois because I disagreed with Donald Trump.”
Cotton said he was doing this to protect law enforcement officers from mistreatment by their management. He wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, “These courageous officers were attacked by left-wing street militias with weapons such as mortar fire, ball bearings, and blinding lasers,” and the department had a practice and “moral duty – to defend law-enforcement officers when they’re sued for actions in the line of duty.”
Fit to Serve or Not?
Cotton is not demanding the DOJ pay for representation of the four deputy marshals, only that it must at least inform the men of a decision on their cases and give a reason why. One has received a denial without explanation, and the other three have received no response to their requests. All are currently on active duty. Three now serve in the USMS Special Operations Group, “a specially trained, tactical unit comprised of Deputy Marshals, who can respond immediately to incidents anywhere in the United States or its territories.”
Cotton wants to know how these law enforcement officers can, at once, be fit for duty in the Special Operations Group yet behaved so badly in Oregon they don’t merit aid in defense of the civil lawsuits? Until Gupta gives him some answers, we can expect Biden nominees to sit in limbo.
~ Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.