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April Perry, nominated by President Joe Biden to be Chicago’s U.S. attorney.

April Perry, nominated by President Joe Biden to be Chicago’s U.S. attorney.

Is time running out for April Perry to become Chicago’s first female U.S. attorney?

President Joe Biden’s nominee to become the first female U.S. attorney in Chicago is in increasing danger of falling victim to Washington politics, a year after the city’s top federal prosecutor left office and with the clock running out on Biden’s first term.

April Perry has waited eight months for a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate, longer than any of Chicago’s last eight U.S. attorneys dating back to 1981. And for Perry, there’s no end in sight. That’s despite her potential to make history and a campaign by Biden and Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, both Democrats, to diversify the nation’s court system.

One of Perry’s colleagues recently said the local legal community had “embraced” the idea of a woman finally serving as the top federal prosecutor here. But Saul Ewing LLP partner Nancy DePodesta said the ensuing delay has since become “disheartening.”

“The fact that she has not been confirmed has absolutely nothing to do with her,” said DePodesta, who previously worked as a federal prosecutor here.

Perry’s confirmation has instead been blocked by U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, to protest the indictments of former Republican President Donald Trump. Vance also blocked the confirmation of the top federal prosecutor in Cleveland. Senate rules allow any senator to hold up a nominee.

Now, Vance has obstructed Perry’s nomination long enough to raise questions about whether she will be confirmed at all. When they announced her nomination in June, White House officials said Perry would be “indispensable to upholding the rule of law as a top federal law enforcement official.”

Perry could not be reached for comment. Vance’s office did not respond to messages. But Durbin’s office referred to his multiple floor speeches on the need for Perry’s confirmation.

“We have a responsibility here to keep Americans safe,” Durbin said in September. “We can’t keep them safe by using a political reason to hold up the nominations of these well-qualified people. If you are truly for law and order, if you are truly for law enforcement, if you want the prosecutors across America to keep us safe, then for goodness’ sakes, lift the hold on these nominations.”

A year without a U.S. attorney

The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago has gone a year without a top prosecutor confirmed by the Senate. Former U.S. Attorney John Lausch left office March 11, 2023. Since then, the office has racked up a string of blockbuster verdicts under the leadership of Morris “Sonny” Pasqual. He’s a well-respected veteran of the office who immediately took over as acting U.S. attorney.

But Pasqual’s old job — first assistant U.S. attorney — has since gone unfilled. The position of criminal division chief has also been vacated recently. And the office awaits permanent leadership needed to make institutional changes and set big-picture priorities.

Former First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro, who left the office in 2014 after 15 years in that role, also spent about 15 months there as acting U.S. attorney. He did so between the June 2012 resignation of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and the October 2013 confirmation of his successor, Zachary Fardon.



U.S. attorney Zachary Fardon announces the drug charges against more than 65 people arrested through “Operation Sweet Dreams” at a press conference held in the U.S. Attorney’s Office on March 9, 2017.

U.S. attorney Zachary Fardon announces the drug charges against more than 65 people arrested through “Operation Sweet Dreams” at a press conference held in the U.S. Attorney’s Office on March 9, 2017.

Max Herman

Shapiro described the interim role as “awkward” but “a lot easier when you have a very good office with very good assistant U.S. attorneys.” At the time, he said, Justice Department policies also prevented him from hiring and promoting people within the office.

Beyond that, Shapiro explained that a confirmed U.S. attorney “has much more influence where it matters” than an acting U.S attorney.

“You get a lot more done when you’re ‘The Man,’ so to speak — or ‘The Woman,’” Shapiro said. “When people believe you are the ultimate decision-maker. And that’s true not only with local issues, but it’s true when you’re dealing with all the folks in Washington.”

Shapiro’s experience shows the current one-year vacancy in the U.S. attorney’s office is not unprecedented. However, Fardon wasn’t nominated by Democratic President Barack Obama until May 2013 — and after that, Fardon waited only five months for confirmation.

In fact, since the nomination of Dan Webb for the office in 1981, the average wait from nomination to confirmation has been less than three months, records show.

Perry has waited nearly three times as long.

And Durbin has said every U.S. attorney since 1975 — whether nominated by a Democrat or Republican — has been confirmed unanimously, bypassing a roll call vote.

Still, the current priority of the Democrat-controlled Senate is to use the limited floor time it has to confirm Biden’s judicial nominees. Unlike Perry and other potential U.S. attorneys, judges have lifetime appointments and would remain beyond the Biden administration.

Clock running out

Currently senior counsel at GE HealthCare, Perry worked as a federal prosecutor in Chicago from 2004 until 2016. She told the Senate Judiciary Committee she became Civil Rights and Hate Crimes supervisor in the U.S. attorney’s office “within days of Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke killing Laquan McDonald” in 2014.

Van Dyke was found guilty in 2018 of McDonald’s second-degree murder, but the former officer never faced federal charges.

“I was faced with leading one of the most critical investigations in the City of Chicago, in which the investigative work performed by the federal government was relied upon to support the successful state prosecution of Van Dyke,” Perry wrote in a questionnaire for the judiciary committee.

Perry also participated in the 2010 trial of Jon Burge, the late Chicago police commander tied to torture allegations who was ultimately convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.



April Perry appears third from the left in this photo taken June 28, 2010, in which then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald comments on the verdict against former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. Perry has been nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as Chicago’s next U.S. attorney, the job Fitzgerald once held.Rich Hein/Sun-Times

April Perry appears third from the left in this photo taken June 28, 2010, in which then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald comments on the verdict against former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. Perry has been nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as Chicago’s next U.S. attorney, the job Fitzgerald once held.

Rich Hein

Later, Perry served as chief ethics officer for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx from 2017 until 2019. Perry resigned from that position in May 2019, and she has said Foxx declined to follow her advice during the prosecution of actor Jussie Smollett.

Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” at one point cited the Smollett case as a justification for his hold on Perry’s nomination, but he has mostly pointed to problems he sees in the Biden Justice Department.

Perry’s current limbo is due in part to the timing of her nomination in June. Like most presidents, Biden began to clean house early in his term by asking nearly all U.S. attorneys for their resignations.

That same custom is how Lausch came to succeed Fardon, who was fired in the early days of the Trump administration in 2017.

Durbin and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, another Democrat, convinced Biden to keep Lausch in office to conclude “sensitive” investigations. That was taken as a reference to the probe of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Lausch left office a year after Madigan’s indictment.

But that meant Biden had a nomination to make in the third year of his term. And he wound up nominating Perry roughly 16 months ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Half of that 16-month clock has already run out, and practical questions now surround Perry’s nomination. If Democrats lose the White House in November, a new president would likely replace the top prosecutors across the country, including in Chicago.

So even if the Senate were to suddenly confirm Perry now, she might leave her job at GE HealthCare to achieve a historic milestone in a prestigious office — but find herself unemployed in less than a year.

Meanwhile, DePodesta points out that any top prosecutor needs “a solid year” to assess the office, meet with law enforcement counterparts, identify issues and decide “what institutional changes need to be made.”

It’s not clear how this year’s presidential election will play out, though. Biden might win re-election. And in the meantime, DePodesta noted, “the work of the office goes on.”

So she said there’s “no reason” for Perry not to get started.

“I think they should confirm her today,” DePodesta said.

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