Senate panel advances Totten nomination for U.S. attorney in west Michigan

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced to the full Senate the nomination of Mark Totten to serve as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan. 

Totten was among a bloc of four U.S. attorney nominees that the panel considered by voice vote Thursday morning, with no votes from Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Ted Cruz of Texas.  

Mark Totten in 2014 when he was running as the Democratic nominee for state attorney general.

President Joe Biden announced his selection of Totten in November, along with Dawn Ison for the post of U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit. Ison was confirmed by the Senate last month. 

Totten, 47, of Kalamazoo did not appear before the committee. He has served as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's chief legal counsel since 2019 and was the 2014 Democratic nominee for attorney general in Michigan, losing to Republican Bill Schuette by 8 percentage points.

In his role as a member of Whitmer's executive team, Totten manages litigation as in-house counsel and provides legal advice to the governor on all executive actions including executive orders, budget matters, emergency management and the state's pandemic response. 

Totten was a professor at Michigan State University's College of Law for 10 years where his research centered on the role of public enforcement in consumer financial protection.

While a professor, he worked pro bono as a special assistant U.S. attorney in the Western District of Michigan from 2011-13.

In that role, he handled appellate criminal matters and arguing several cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit involving predatory lending, child exploitation, domestic violence, homicide, drug crimes and gun crimes, according to a questionnaire he submitted to the Judiciary Committee. 

In 2016-17, Totten was part of volunteer team under the Genesee County prosecutor investigating the Flint water crisis and reviewing potential legal strategies in an effort separate from the investigation undertaken by the Michigan Attorney General's Office, according to his questionnaire. The Genesee County prosecutor ultimately decided not to bring charges.

Totten was elected as a trustee to the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education, serving from 2011–14.

Earlier in his career, he spent a year in the civil appellate division at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington before going to clerk for Judge Thomas Griffith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The questionnaire that Totten submitted to the committee also detailed his political activities, including serving as an adviser to Whitmer's 2018 campaign by taking part in debate preparation and chairing Pat Miles campaign for attorney general in 2017-18.

Totten also worked pro bono as state counsel for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, helping to manage the statewide voter protection program for the general election. He took on a similar role as Kalamazoo County counsel for former President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. 

He also managed Jocelyn Benson's 2010 campaign for secretary of state for the last three months leading up to the election, according to Totten's questionnaire.

Totten holds three degrees from Yale University including a doctorate, law degree and a master's degree in religion from Yale Divinity School.