Charles Atchley – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee

Longtime federal prosecutor Charles Atchley is President Trump’s latest nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.  While Atchley has the support of his home-state senators, he has a very short confirmation window before the end of the year.

Background

A Tennessee native, Charles Edward Atchley Jr. was born in Knoxville in 1966.  He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1989 and then attended Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, graduating in 1993.[1]  Atchley then joined the Office of the District Attorney General as a state prosecutor in 1994.

In 2001, Atchley became a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.[2]  Atchley became First Assistant with the Office in 2018 and has served in that capacity since.  

History of the Seat

Atchley has been nominated to fill a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.  This seat opened on March 10, 2020, when Judge Harry Mattice moved to senior status.  Atchley applied for a federal judgeship and was recommended by Tennessee’s senators to the White House in September 2019.[3]  However, he was not formally nominated until September 2020, more than a year later.

Legal Career

Atchley has spent virtually his entire legal career as a prosecutor, spending seven years at the state level and nineteen at the federal level.  In this time, Atchley has tried more than 50 cases to judgment or verdict.[4]

During his time as a prosecutor, Atchley has handled a number of high profile cases, most notably prosecuting Allen Ho for trying to recruit nuclear experts to help the Chinese government.[5]  Atchley also prosecuted Tennessee Rep. Joseph Armstrong, a Democrat, for allegedly manipulating the state’s cigarette tax system to make more than $300,000.[6]  Additionally, Atchley prosecuted four Campbell County Sheriff’s deputies for the beating and torture of a suspected drug dealer.[7] 

Overall Assessment

As a relatively apolitical career prosecutor, Atchley’s nomination is likely to be fairly uncontroversial, except for its timing.  With the Trump Administration’s term winding down, Democrats are likely to oppose any nominee at this late stage, arguing that these seats deserve to be filled by President Biden.  If Republicans stick together and prioritize the nomination, they are likely to be able to push Atchley onto the bench.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Charles E. Atchley Jr: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 30-31.

[4] Id. at 17.

[5] See Robin Pagnamenta, Nuclear ‘Spy’ Claims FBI Tricked Him Into Confession, The London Times, Aug. 18, 2016.

[6] Erik Schelzig, Prosecutors: Tennessee Lawmaker Acted ‘Above the Law’, A.P. State & Local, Aug. 2, 2016.

[7] See Four Former Campbell Officers Sentenced in Torture Case, A.P. State & Local Wire, July 13, 2005.

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