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Haphazard, Systematic, or Both?

An Empirical Investigation of the US Attorney Firings in 2006

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

Banks Miller
University of Texas at Dallas
Brett Curry*
Georgia Southern University
Contact the corresponding author, Brett Curry, at


In 2006, the Bush administration directed nine US attorneys to resign. This decision was a partial cause of the attorney general’s departure from the administration, and it prompted investigations and congressional hearings. Seen as largely ad hoc, we argue that theory predicts a more systematic decision-making process. We investigate this empirically and find, consistent with literature on principal-agent theories and bureaucracy, that performance on easily monitored metrics and adverse-selection concerns predict the firings. We explore the implications of these findings for efforts to centralize decision-making in the Department of Justice and to exert political control over US attorneys.

Research Article
© 2018 by the Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

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We thank Trent Davis for his helpful reactions to earlier drafts of this article and gratefully acknowledge the institutional support that enabled us to obtain the data needed to complete this project. A previous version of this work was presented at the 2017 Southern Political Science Association Conference in New Orleans, where we received valuable feedback.


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