April Perry nominated for federal judge, nixing bid to be Chicago’s first female US attorney

Nearly a year after April Perry was nominated to be Chicago’s first female U.S. attorney, President Joe Biden has changed tack in the face of blanket opposition from a single Republican senator and he is instead naming Perry a federal judge for the Northern District of Illinois.

The announcement Wednesday ends Perry’s bid to take over the top federal law enforcement job in Chicago, which has been officially vacant since U.S. Attorney John Lausch stepped down in March 2023.

Perry is being nominated to fill a seat being vacated by U.S. District Judge Nancy Maldonado, who has been nominated to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, the White House announced Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the search for Lausch’s replacement will likely have to begin anew and almost certainly won’t be decided until after the 2024 presidential election in November.

In a joint statement Wednesday, Illinois’ two Democratic senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, said they were “pleased” with Perry’s nomination to the bench and look forward to supporting her for the lifetime appointment, which will first go before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Durbin chairs.

Perry, a former federal prosecutor, was nominated by Biden to succeed Lausch as the first woman ever to hold the office. And though Perry was confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2023, she was still no closer to assuming the role eight months later due to the caustic political landscape in Washington.

That’s because of a blanket hold put on all U.S. attorney nominees by Republican Sen. J.D. Vance, of Ohio, who has said he’s holding up final votes on the Senate floor to protest the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal investigations of former President Donald Trump.

Durbin has repeatedly called on Vance to end his unprecedented blockade, which Durbin says goes against decades of Senate tradition to confirm such nominees on a bipartisan basis by unanimous consent.

In March, a frustrated Durbin again called out Vance during a hearing to approve several other nominees, including Rebecca Lutzko, whose appointment as U.S. attorney in Ohio is also being held up by Vance, her home senator.

“We have to stop and ask ourselves, ‘What kind of a Senate are we creating here if we’re going to have just more and more excuses to do nothing?’” Durbin said. “I’m afraid it’s going to add to the frustration that many of us feel. So please, when you’re talking about putting holds on people like U.S. attorneys … let’s reflect on the fact that the integrity of this process is at issue.”

Vance has held firm even though, as Durbin has often pointed out, he has campaigned on a strong law-and-order platform. In remarks on the Senate floor last September, Vance agreed his hold policy put the Senate in a “unique circumstance,” but said the political times were also unique.

“Trump never tried to throw his political opponents in prison,” Vance said. “This is crazy banana republic stuff and I will not stand for it. I will continue to hold these nominations. I will continue to push back against the politicization of justice.”

Perry’s selection as a successor was announced by Biden in June 2023. When Perry was approved by the Judiciary Committee three months later, Durbin noted that leaving U.S. attorney posts vacant has real implications on the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute violent drug cartels and other important work that “keeps us safe.”

“Find another way to protest,” Durbin said.

Durbin said in his statement Wednesday that Vance’s stated goal was to “grind the Department of Justice to a halt,” and that while Durbin attempted to confirm Perry by unanimous consent numerous times on the Senate floor, Vance objected each time.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is one of the busiest in the nation, handling everything from terrorism, gang conspiracies and bank robberies to financial fraud and political corruption. The office has more than 300 employees, including about 130 prosecutors and more than two dozen attorneys who focus on civil litigation.

Lausch was nominated by Trump in 2017 and held the post during the early portion of the Biden administration due to a bipartisan call to keep him on as a series of high-profile Illinois political corruption investigations continued to unfold.

Lausch officially stepped down March 11, 2023, days before the “ComEd Four” case alleging a scheme by the utility giant to bribe Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan went to trial.

For the past year, the office has been overseen by acting U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual.

Perry is currently the senior counsel for global investigations and fraud and abuse prevention at Chicago-based GE HealthCare. Previously, she worked for 12 years as a federal prosecutor in Chicago, and for a time was a coordinator for various programs that concentrated on violence against women, hate crimes and civil rights.

In addition to her law practice, Perry has also served as a hearing officer for the Chicago Police Board, a panel that decides whether Chicago cops should be fired for disciplinary infractions.

She received her law degree from Northwestern University.