SD Union-Tribune: Senate confirms Tara McGrath as new U.S. attorney in San Diego
By Alex Riggins
The U.S. Senate voted Friday to confirm Tara McGrath as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, installing her as the chief prosecutor and top federal law enforcement official in one of the busiest federal districts in the nation.
California Sen. Alex Padilla’s office said Thursday that Padilla, a Democrat, had pressured Vance to lift his holds on two U.S. attorney nominees — McGrath and Todd Gee for the Southern District of Mississippi, who was confirmed 82-8 on Friday.
Padilla’s office said Vance still slowed down the process by forcing a time-consuming floor vote on both candidates — McGrath’s vote took about 50 minutes — rather than allowing a much quicker unanimous consent vote.
“Sen. Alex Padilla deserves substantial credit for challenging the blanket hold, which he forced Vance to admit had nothing to do with McGrath’s qualifications,” Carl Tobias, the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond School of Law, wrote in an email Friday. “These types of holds violate Senate customs, especially when they are unrelated to the merits of a strong nominee like McGrath.”
Democrats helped approve more than 80 of Trump’s U.S. attorney nominees on voice votes, “which is longstanding Senate custom,” according to Tobias, who tracks federal judge and U.S. attorney nominations.
Tobias said it was unclear to him why so many Republicans voted against McGrath on Friday, particularly because a Senate Judiciary Committee review found no issues with her, and he viewed her as a mainstream nomination with bipartisan support. “That seems odd to me,” Tobias wrote. “I believe that no one has questioned her qualifications.”
McGrath, who was nominated by President Joe Biden in March, served more than a decade as an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego and Washington, D.C., before spending the past four years working as a legal adviser for the Marine Corps, of which she is a veteran.
With her confirmation vote now complete, Biden must sign a formal document to finalize the process. That usually takes a day or two — though the looming shutdown could affect the timeline in McGrath’s case. Either way, she’s expected to be sworn in by Dana Sabraw, chief U.S. district judge in the San Diego area, likely sometime next week.
She’ll take over the job from Andrew Haden, who was appointed acting U.S. attorney in early August. Haden had taken over for Randy Grossman, who stepped down last month in anticipation of McGrath’s confirmation. Grossman served nearly two and a half years as U.S. attorney in acting, interim and appointed capacities after Biden took office and Trump-appointee Robert Brewer resigned as part of a routine process when a new administration takes office.
The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California is the top federal law enforcement official for San Diego and Imperial counties. Due to a large number of border-related crimes — mostly drug importation, human smuggling and illegal reentry — the district is typically the fourth busiest in the nation, according to federal court data, behind three others in Texas and Arizona that also cover the border.
McGrath, a 1995 graduate of Boston College and a 2001 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, served as a judge advocate from 2001 to 2005 while on active duty in the Marine Corps. From 2005 to 2007, she worked as the director of an office for the Coastal Conservation League, a South Carolina-based environmental organization.
She joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego in 2008 and remained in that post for nearly 12 years, starting as a prosecutor in the general crimes unit and working her way up to principal deputy chief of that unit.
From 2015 to 2018, while still a part of the local U.S. Attorney’s Office, McGrath was detailed to serve as a trial attorney for the DOJ’s Office of Enforcement Operations in Washington. That office, which the DOJ describes as overseeing “the use of the most sophisticated investigative tools at the (DOJ’s) disposal,” has a wide range of responsibilities, from reviewing all federal electronic surveillance requests, to authorizing witnesses to enter the federal protection program, to registering gambling entities.
McGrath left the San Diego U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2019 to join the DOJ as a civilian litigation attorney adviser for the Marine Corps in the Pacific region.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved McGrath’s nomination in July, with just four of the 21 members voting against her. The committee did not discuss or debate her nomination.
The full Senate also did not discuss or debate her nomination before voting Friday.
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