KU law professor confirmed as U.S. attorney for District of Kansas

Kansas Solicitor General Steve McAllister, makes oral arguments before the full, 14-member, Kansas Court of Appeals in Topeka, Kan., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015.

The U.S. Senate voted unanimously Wednesday evening to confirm University of Kansas law professor Stephen McAllister as the next U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas.

That office is part of the Justice Department and is in charge of all federal prosecutions in Kansas. He succeeds Tom Beall, a career prosecutor who was appointed to the post during the Obama administration following the retirement of former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom.

McAllister was nominated in September by President Donald Trump.

McAllister, 55, is a 1988 graduate of the KU School of Law. He later clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Clarence Thomas, as well as for Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He also worked in private practice before returning to teach at KU in 1993. He served as dean of the law school from 2000 to 2005.

In addition to teaching, McAllister has served as solicitor general in Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office, arguing on behalf of the state before the Kansas Supreme Court in such cases as the ongoing school finance case, Gannon v. Kansas. He also helped represent the state before the U.S. Supreme Court in a death penalty case, Kansas v. Cheever, which involved the 2005 murder of Greenwood County Sheriff Matthew Samuels.

Stephen McAllister

He also maintains a private practice at the Lawrence firm of Thompson Warner, P.A.

In a phone interview Thursday, McAllister said he will be sworn into the office sometime next month, and he hasn’t yet decided whether he will work primarily out of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Wichita, Topeka or Kansas City, Kan. He did, however, say that he will only be taking an unpaid leave of absence from KU, and he plans to return to his teaching job when his job as federal prosecutor is over.

“It struck me as a moment which created an opportunity for me to serve in a way that I have not served, and certainly not in a long time have I been part of the federal system,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of years working directly for the state of Kansas but I thought I would like to do some more federal service before my career is over.”

Even though the job of a federal prosecutor is very different from what he is used to as a professor at KU, McAllister said he is confident he can make the transition.

“I’ve certainly been around the criminal justice system and the litigation system all of my career, including substantial involvement in a lot of criminal cases through the attorney general’s office, but the U.S. Attorney is not necessarily the person who’s going to be standing in a courtroom trying a case every day. I mean, you’re really running an office of over 50 lawyers in various places doing all sorts of things. So I do think administration, management, supervision, all of that is a big part of what the U.S. Attorney does, and the office of course does have a lot of appeals as well to the 10th Circuit and that would certainly be right up my alley.”

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican, announced McAllister’s confirmation in a news release Wednesday evening.

“Mr. McAllister has my full support to serve Kansans as U.S. Attorney,” Roberts said in the release. “He has extensive legal experience in state and federal courts including arguing nine cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, where he once served as a clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas.”

Schmidt also issued a statement commending McAllister for his work for the state.

“Steve McAllister has served Kansas well as our solicitor general for more than a decade,” Schmidt said in the statement released Thursday. “I have greatly appreciated his wise counsel on the many complex legal cases on which we have worked together to represent the State. While we will miss Steve’s service to the State, I look forward to working closely with him in his new role as U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas.”

Stephen Mazza, the current dean of the law school, said he was happy for McAllister and that his appointment and confirmation reflect well on the school.

“The position that he is about to take is one of the ultimate public service positions that a lawyer can have,” he said in a phone interview. “To have a KU Law grad and a member of the KU Law faculty member in that position speaks well to the institution.”

Mazza said the law school plans to hire a visiting scholar to fill McAllister’s position while he is serving as U.S. Attorney.

McAllister teaches courses in civil rights actions, federal constitutional law, torts and state constitutional law.