St. Mary's Law Journal


Tom Rickhoff


Nothing more separates the United States from some of history’s most ruthless and resourceful enemies, the Mexican drug syndicates, than an intermittent trickle of water. In spite of this crisis, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has languished without a presidentially-appointed leader since the Branch Davidian nightmare. Considering the historical influence of the U.S. Attorney’s office, the current situation in the Western District of Texas is somewhat surprising. At one time, U.S. Attorneys exercised almost total discretion as to how the federal government impacted the lives of the powerful as well as the powerless. One of the primary obstacles in restoring effective power to the U.S. Attorney rests in the structure of the office itself. The legislation which created the office now constrain it due to the growth and changing needs of the country. The U.S. Attorney’s office falls under the Department of Justice (DOJ) which has worked to centralize control via removing discretion from local offices. The power of the offices is further undermined by partisan selection and turnover with every new Presidential administration. Lastly, too many officials are involved in setting the priorities of the attorneys. These officials include Congress, the Attorney General, and federal investigative agencies—each with a set of priorities they direct the office to prosecute. The office of the U.S. Attorney was once considered to be a powerful and distinguished position within the federal government. Unfortunately, the encroachment of government bureaucracies has tarnished the position. Yet, through a variety of concerted actions, the office can be restored to a position of respect and authority. Restoring the office in such a manner will enable the U.S. Attorney to establish priorities and take steps to save our borders, streets, and children from the increasingly powerful lure of drugs and crime.


St. Mary's University School of Law