John Cronan – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

John Cronan, who currently serves as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice, was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, with the support of New York’s Democratic Senators.  


John Peter Cronan was born in Teaneck, New Jersey in 1976.  Cronan graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University and then received his J.D. from Yale Law School.[1] 

After graduating, Cronan clerked for Judge Barrington Daniels Parker and for Judge Robert Katzmann on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.[2]  Cronan then became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  In 2017, Cronan became the Chief of the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.

In 2017, Cronan moved to the Department of Justice to be Acting Assistant Attorney General and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General.  He is still with the Department.

History of the Seat

Cronan has been tapped for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to a seat vacated by Judge Richard Pauley, who moved to senior status on March 1, 2018.  In mid-2018, Cronan expressed his interest in the judgeship to the White House Counsel’s Office.[3]  Shortly after, Cronan interviewed with the White House Counsel’s Office for the judgeship.

In May 2019, Cronan’s nomination process restarted with a second interview.  Cronan was officially nominated on December 2, 2019.

Legal Career

After his clerkships, Cronan spent the rest of his career as a federal prosecutor and as the Department of Justice.

Cronan worked as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York between 2007 and 2017.  In that role, Cronan handled a wide variety of cases in both the Civil and Criminal Divisions of the Office, focusing in particular on terrorism cases.[4]  For example, Cronan prosecuted Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, a close associate of Osama Bin Laden, for conspiring to murder Americans and providing material support to terrorists.[5]  Cronan also prosecuted a number of other individuals for terrorism-related charges, including Abu Hamza al-Masri, Faisal Shahzad, and Mohammad Younis.

In his current role at the Department of Justice, Cronan led the pursuance of charges for precious metal market manipulation against HSBC, UBS, and Deutsche Bank.[6]  Cronan also testified before Congress regarding the Justice Department’s civil asset forfeiture policies, where he faced criticism for the delay in returning seized assets to taxpayers.[7]


While Cronan hasn’t written much for most of his career, he was particularly prodigious in his youth, writing a number of legal articles over the first few years of his career.  We’ve outlined some of the more significant below.

First Amendment

Cronan has been particularly prolific in writing about the First Amendment concept of “incitement,” which allows the government to punish speech that incites someone to “imminent lawless action.”  In a student note authored in 2000, Cronan discussed the incitement and related “threat” standard when applied to the Nuremberg Files, a “hit-list” of abortion doctors published on the internet.[8]  In the article, Cronan argues that the list did not constitute a “true threat” as it lacked both the language of the threat and the intent to carry out a threat.[9]  In a later article, Cronan suggests that the list could have risen to the level of incitement to lawless activity as several doctors on the list were later victims of violence and three were killed.[10]

Diversity and Multiculturalism

In 2001, Cronan authored an article discussing affirmative action programs in higher education.[11]  Specifically, Cronan praised the overall goal of increasing diversity in higher education, but criticized both race-based affirmative action and race-blind affirmative action, instead proposing a hybrid scheme that considers both racial and non-racial factors.[12]

Overall Assessment

Despite his Federalist Society background and Trump Administration bona fides, Cronan is likely to attract more opposition from the right than from the left.  If so, such opposition would largely be motivated by his writings which reject conservative positions on issues of affirmative action, abortion rights, and First Amendment law.  As such, while Cronan is strongly favored for confirmation, it would not be surprising to see some “no” votes from Republican senators.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., John Cronan: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 76.

[4] See id. at 38.

[5] United States v. Abu Ghayth, S14 98 Cr. 1023 (LAK) (S.D.N.Y.).

[6] See Renae Merle, U.S. Regulator, DOJ Settle ‘Spoofing’ Charges Against European Banks; The Case is the Largest Crackdown, So Far, On What Wall Street Has Increasingly Complained Is Abuse Of Sophisticated Computer Algorithms to Illegally Place and Quickly Cancel Bids on Commodity Contracts, Wash. Post Blogs, Jan. 29, 2018. 

[7] Christopher Ingraham, The Justice Department Won’t Return Seized Cash to Hundreds of Taxpayers. Now House Republicans Are Stepping In.; “What Was Done Was Not Fair, Just or Right in Most Cases,” Lawmakers Say, Wash. Post Blogs, July 19, 2018.

[8] John P. Cronan, Free Speech on the Internet: Does the First Amendment Protect the “Nuremberg Files”?, 2 Yale Symp. L. & Tech. 5  (Spring 2000).

[9] Id. at 17.

[10] John P. Cronan, The Next Challenge for the First Amendment: The Framework for an Internet Incitement Standard, 51 Cath. U. L. Rev. 425, 446 (2002).

[11] The Diversity Justification in Higher Education: Evaluating Disadvantaged Status in School Admissions, 34 Suffolk U.L. Rev. 305 (2001).

[12] Such a scheme is fairly consistent with modern affirmative action schemes, which consider race but do not use it as a sole factor.

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