The Lesbian Who Could Be The Next U.S. Attorney General

Meet Jenny Durkan, being pushed as a potential nominee by LGBT advocates in D.C.

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan speaks during a news conference in Seattle. AP/Ted S. Warren

WASHINGTON — Three weeks after Jenny Durkan announced that she would step down at the end of the month from her role as the U.S. attorney in Seattle, some in D.C. are pushing her name as a potential successor to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Although not well-known in D.C. circles, some LGBT advocates are advocating for her to take the reins at the Department of Justice. If she were to become the nominee and be confirmed, she would be the first out LGBT person in a cabinet role.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, Emily Langlie, told BuzzFeed News that she had discussed the issue with Durkan and that they concluded it “would not be appropriate” for the office to issue any comment on the speculation.

“With Attorney General Holder’s resignation, President Obama has an amazing opportunity to once again make history and reflect our country’s great diversity. The controversy of getting the Senate to confirm an openly LGBT appointee is over,” Human Rights Campaign Vice President for Communications Fred Sainz told BuzzFeed News, referencing Durkan as a possible pick.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund — which advocates for out LGBT candidates and appointees — was even more direct. “It will be a huge milestone if the president chooses a qualified LGBT American like Jenny Durkan,” Torey Carter, managing director of the Victory Fund, told BuzzFeed News. “It would send a signal that experience and ability matter a lot more than gender or sexual orientation, and that would matter a lot to young people who worry they can’t be authentically themselves and still succeed in life.”

Durkan also was listed by NBC News as a potential replacement should Obama look for a “career prosecutor” to take over, reporting that “a top Democratic Hill aide tells NBC News that one possibility would be retiring U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in Seattle.”

In announcing her planned departure from her role as the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington earlier this month, Durkan was highlighted by the Seattle Times for her role in two areas — police reform and civil rights — that have been central to Holder’s tenure, particularly in the months since the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

According to the Seattle Times, “[P]erhaps more than anything else, Durkan’s efforts in the area of police accountability and civil rights will define her time as U.S. attorney.”

The article continued:

Her intimate knowledge of problems within the Seattle Police Department — gleaned after serving on two mayor-appointed task forces — led her to call in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) civil-rights division and the FBI in 2011 after widespread community complaints.

The DOJ concluded later that year that Seattle police routinely used excessive force, mostly against the mentally or chemically impaired, and often escalated stops into violent confrontations. The DOJ also concluded there was disturbing, if inconclusive, evidence of biased policing.

Durkan sued the city and then negotiated a hard-fought settlement agreement, monitored by a federal judge, to address the problems.

HRC has long pressed for an out LGBT person to be nominated for Obama’s cabinet. In an interview the week of Obama’s reelection in 2012, HRC President Chad Griffin told BuzzFeed News, “We now have the opportunity, and I hope this president and this White House will seize the opportunity to have the first openly LGBT cabinet secretary.”

Fred Hochberg, the head of the Export-Import Bank, and John Berry, the former head of the Office of Personnel Management, are two out gay men who were previously discussed as potential cabinet nominees — for commerce and interior, respectively — although neither came to fruition.

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Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com.

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