Senate panel approves Polite nomination for U.S. Attorney

The U.S. Senate could confirm Kenneth Polite Jr. as New Orleans’ next U.S. attorney as soon as the week of Sept. 23.

Polite moved one step closer to entering the office Thursday after the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee quickly approved his nomination to become the top federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Louisiana. He was first nominated for the job by President Barack Obama in June.

The voice vote, which had no opposition, puts the 37-year-old Polite on track to receive procedural approval from the full U.S. Senate. Once that occurs, he can officially take over in the job.

“He (Polite) had been pending for over two months and there’s no concerns about his record,” said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee chairman. Usually opposition to a candidate comes to the surface in committee.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in February recommended Polite for the job, choosing to make him her sole choice. She said he stood out from the pack of potential choices.

Polite, who also is a state civil service commissioner, would fill the void left by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who resigned in December amid a scandal concerning two top prosecutors anonymously criticizing judges and defendants online. Dana J. Boente, of Virginia, is serving as the interim U.S. attorney.

“During the interview process, Mr. Polite rose to the top of an impressive list of candidates due to his excellent academic record, impressive legal experience and clear dedication to the New Orleans region,” Landrieu said Thursday in a prepared statement. “With the backing of our local community, the president and now the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Polite’s qualifications are without question ... I call on my colleagues to confirm Mr. Polite without delay so he can get to work for the people of the Eastern District.”

Polite has said he would refrain from further interviews during the confirmation process.

But in a prepared statement, Polite said: “I am honored to receive the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Once again, I wish to express my gratitude for President Obama’s nomination and Sen. Landrieu’s recommendation for this important position. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, I will serve without reservation.”

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, also praised the committee’s actions.

“There is no doubt in my mind that once confirmed, Kenneth will excel as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana,” Richmond stated.

The hope was originally to get him confirmed prior to the August congressional recess, but that didn’t happen.

Polite’s confirmation by the full Senate is expected to proceed smoothly because U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., opted against blocking the confirmation.

Still, Vitter has expressed concerns about Polite’s level of experience and his interest in focusing more on violent crime.

“Ken is a bright young guy, and I wish him all the best in this very challenging time for that office,” Vitter stated in June. “I remain concerned that that office really needs a more seasoned leader and supervisor to immediately stabilize it after its scandals, and that Ken’s focus on street crime will unintentionally take focus away from battling political corruption. I hope his service proves otherwise.”

Polite, a New Orleans native, currently serves with the Liskow & Lewis law firm, where he practices law in business litigation, appellate advocacy, government investigations and white-collar criminal defense.

Prior to joining Liskow, Polite was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he served as lead counsel in numerous investigations and prosecutions of federal criminal offenses, including bribery, extortion, narcotics trafficking, money laundering and identity theft.

Polite was named to the state Civil Service Commission in early 2011 by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Polite was one of three recommendations made to the governor by Xavier University President Norman Francis. This past year, Polite was critical of some of Jindal’s privatization and hospital layoff plans.

Polite is a graduate of Harvard University and the Georgetown University Law Center. He clerked for U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Thomas L. Ambro.

Polite was born to teenage parents and raised, early on, in the Calliope and Lafitte housing projects of New Orleans, and then in the Lower 9th Ward.

He went on to become the first African-American valedictorian of De La Salle High School in New Orleans before going to Harvard.