Politics

Politicized Justice

It's time to restore public trust in the Department of Justice

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In his zest to purge enemies in the government, Richard Nixon was so thorough that he set out to remove a "Jewish cabal" at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. President Bush and his subordinates may match Nixon for paranoia. Some of them lay awake nights wondering how to keep ideologically questionable applicants from infiltrating the Justice Department's summer internship program.

According to the department's inspector general in a report issued this week, they had some success in heading off this potential catastrophe—eliminating many candidates with subversive affiliations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. But the report condemned the effort, finding that it involved official misconduct and broke the law.

Political abuses in the summer internship program may be no more than a minor threat to honest government. The same cannot be said of abuses in the hiring and firing of federal prosecutors, which the inspector general is also investigating. Back in 2006, the Justice Department abruptly dismissed nine U.S. attorneys, some apparently because they declined to prosecute certain Democrats.

One of those fired was David Iglesias of New Mexico, who was shown the door after deciding not to seek indictments in a case involving a Democratic state senator—and after getting ominous phone calls from congressional Republicans asking how the case was proceeding.

Another was Todd Graves, who had refused to file a vote fraud case against the state of Missouri. His successor filed it, but Graves was vindicated when a federal court tossed it out for lack of evidence.

That successor is now contemplating the criminal justice system from a different vantage. Bradley Schlozman, The Wall Street Journal reported recently, could be the target of a grand jury investigation stemming from possible perjury in his testimony on Capitol Hill.

He may not be the only one who will get to know federal prosecutors in an entirely new way. The New York Times disclosed that a federal grand jury has "begun to examine statements by Justice Department officials about hiring decisions in the civil rights division, where some employees said they were subject to a political litmus test."

The 2006 firings violated a long tradition of independence for U.S. attorneys, who are appointed by the president but actually work for the people. It betrayed a zeal to use government power to advance partisan purposes at the expense of justice.

It also confirmed the remark by John DiIulio, a conservative scholar who quit as head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives after making an unpleasant discovery: "What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, run by the political arm."

If you want to know the source of Barack Obama's success, look no further. Republicans think they will win once Americans figure out he's more liberal than he sounds. But Obama's appeal lies less in any supposedly moderate ideology than in his rejection of a corrosive but prevalent view: Government is nothing more than partisan warfare, and may the stronger side win.

The Bush administration thinks every aspect of governance should serve the ends of the Republican Party. Obama says—and may even believe—that some matters should be above politics.

In the case of federal prosecutors, that is not a new view but an old one. U.S. attorneys are political appointees but not, traditionally, political agents. They are supposed to advance justice without fear or favor. To turn them into partisan attack dogs is to make the law merely a weapon of those in power.

Republicans may dismiss such notions as 8th-grade civics tripe, or as sour grapes from those whom the American people have wisely kept out of the White House. But it also happens to be the view of Bush's former deputy attorney general, James Comey.

In testifying before Congress about the intrusion of politics into the hiring of career prosecutors, he said, "If that was going on, that strikes at the core of what the Department of Justice is…It deprives the department of its lifeblood, which is the ability to stand up and have juries of all stripes believe what you say and have sheriffs and judges and jailers—the people we deal with—trust the Department of Justice."

Public trust was once something the department could take for granted. It would be nice if, four years from now, it is again.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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  1. Dear American Voters, reporters, media. professionals, political parties, and presidential Nominees,

    Subject: Presidential Temperament

    Please talk about and “Compare And Contrast” the ” Presidential Temperament” of our Presidential presumptive nominees. I will also request and plead to the nominees themselves [ Hon. Senator McCain and Obama ].

    Our nation has been applying this yard and stick tor the appointments and confirmation process of our Supreme Court Justices nominees.

    Our Greatgrand Nation Foundations are as under:
    Family, friends, fellows, faith, funds, fun, with fairness & freedom And without fear, favor, and failure.

    It will be disgrace and shameful if the nominees and media will not look into this critical and crucial aspect under current challenges circumstances within our country and all around the Globe. America wake up and the ” Presidential Temperament is the key.

    Yours truly,

    COL. A.M.Khajawall [Ret].
    Disabled American Veteran
    Forensic psychiatrist, Las Vegas, Nevada.
    Cell phone: 951-505-6975.

  2. Hitler boobies persian amateur?

  3. Google says the good Colonel has been busy today.

  4. Nigel:

    You read my mind.

  5. Nigel:

    Farkers of the world, unite!

  6. By the way, Colonel, “our Presidential presumptive nominees” are not Obama and McCain. Six men will be on enough ballots to be capable of winning.

  7. The Bush administration thinks every aspect of governance should serve the ends of the Republican Party.

    Components of which are: Militarists, Evangelicals, and Robber Barons.

  8. Correction- five men and one woman.

  9. I think David Iglasias was the guy they based Tom Cruise’s character off of in ‘A Few Good Men.’

  10. Correction- five men and one woman.

    So who’s the bimbo?

  11. The “Justice” Department needs a new name.

    Either Department of Law. Or simply The “Justice” Department, quotes included.

    Our legal system no longer serves justice.

  12. Bravo, Mr. Chapman.

    If you ever want to take a spin though the archives, look at what our Republican regulars were saying the comment threads during U.S. Attorney-gate.

    “Ahem. What part of political appointee don’t you understand?” Personally, I like to read this line in a Thurston Howell voice.

    Self-proclaimed lovers of liberty, looking at people using the investigatory and prosecutorial arms of the government – the sharpest end of the government stick, the power to send men with guns to your home, and throw you in a cell, and hold you there for years – to persecute people based on their political affiliations, and self-proclaimed libertarians declare it to be the way government is supposed to work.

  13. BH-

    Cynthia McKinney, certifiably insane Green Party candidate.

    Apparently since the LP went out and snagged a famous ex-Georgia congresscritter, the Green Party had to run out and buy a cheaper, somewhat broken knock-off of the idea.

  14. Self-proclaimed lovers of liberty, looking at people using the investigatory and prosecutorial arms of the government – the sharpest end of the government stick, the power to send men with guns to your home, and throw you in a cell, and hold you there for years – to persecute people based on their political affiliations, and self-proclaimed libertarians declare it to be the way government is supposed to work.

    Certainly not hot it’s supposed to work, but an inevitable consequence of prosecutors being political appointees.

    Personally, I can’t get that upset about attorneys being fired for going after too few politicians, even if it’s over a cheap ploy to keep power hungry Republicans from losing their seats.

  15. sorry to go off-topic maybe, but what does it mean when the most trigger-happy yahoos in Federal Law Enforcement go after the most trigger-happy yahoos in Private Enterprise for helping to militarize local law enforcement? is the timing an issue? are they sending a message? if the ATF & Blackwater went to war (a la Waco) & destroyed each other, would everybody else be a winner?

  16. Certainly not hot it’s supposed to work, but an inevitable consequence of prosecutors being political appointees.

    It is inevitable that politics will affect these decisions. HOWEVER, the extent to which it affects decisions, and the frequency of severe incidents, is something that can be kept low by conscientious effort. Although conscientious effort will never eliminate the problem, it can mitigate the problem. Throwing one’s hands up and saying “Eh, it’s politics, it will always happen, why get upset?” is giving a blank check to abuses.

  17. joe,

    I think I may have said something along the lines of what you said. The sad truth is, I was right and wrong. As long as any president can manipulate the Justice Department the way Bush has, these types of actions will continue. Unless Congress wants to act, however, the U.S. Attorneys do, in fact, serve at the pleasure of the president. Sucks for us.

  18. The U.S. Attorneys do, in fact, serve at the pleasure of the President. Too bad the President and the Attorneys do not serve the primary oath they have taken to the Constitution.

  19. The country got along fine for years without any Department of Justice at all. We don’t need it.

  20. The country got along fine for years without any Department of Justice at all. We don’t need it.

    yeah, doj may have only got the title in 1870, but there was an AG since the begining and an associated bureaucracy for almost that long.

  21. Nowhere is the corrosive effect of politics more-obvious than the attack on 100% precious metal backed privately issued currencies like e-gold and the Liberty Dollar. HUGE resources are thrown into those cases, but bullshit like:

    http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/02/17/business/20080217_SWAP_2_GRAPHIC.html

    is totally ignored, despite the fact that nobody can give me an honest explanation for why the US economy survived the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s without this essential “credit default insurance ‘market'” which has grown so-fast and with so little scrutiny. The system is SCREWED because of this political bias against anything remotely libertarian or Constitutional.
    JMR

  22. It this is an inevitable outcome of the way the system works, why did it get so dramatically worse under Bush than under Clinton, Old Bush, Reagan, Carter…?

  23. Frankly, from my brief stint in DC, I think the DOJ has always been heavily political. What’s different today is that the previous iterations valued the appearance of neutrality and evenhandedness. This administration doesn’t value such things, so the veneer has been stripped away. Not to mention that subtlety is not one of Bush’s strengths.

  24. Once upon a time, SCOTUS appointees were made without much fanfare or regard to politics. The more politically active the court became the more political the appointment process became.

    This is just the next phase in the expansion of government power.

  25. But Obama’s appeal lies less in any supposedly moderate ideology than in his rejection of a corrosive but prevalent view: Government is nothing more than partisan warfare, and may the stronger side win

    Man, Chapman’s hard-on for Obama is like a steel bar. This statement alone is a prime example of how utterly shitty Chapman’s articles are.

  26. “Everything is political, there’s no such thing as playing it straight,” whether for the mouth of a po-mo wimminz studies professor or a libertarian blog commenter, is an excuse to not even try to be fair and honest.

  27. joe, in the mouth of a libertarian “everything [in government] is politics” is not an excuse to not try to be fair and honest, it is a warning that you cannot count on fairness and honesty in government (regardless of whose team holds the reins at any given moment), and that therefor government should be as limited as possible.

  28. It this is an inevitable outcome of the way the system works, why did it get so dramatically worse under Bush than under Clinton, Old Bush, Reagan, Carter…?

    Because inevitable processes take time to wind their way to their conclusion?

    You might as well ask why it took so long for 2 girls 1 cup to appear on the web.

    George Bush has not really tried anything that wasn’t tried by Lincoln, Wilson, Hoover, FDR aut al. He does, however, have far more effective methods of propaganda at his disposal. And, we see what he is doing rather than reading it out of a history book.

  29. RC,

    In the mouth of principled po-mo professor, that statement is also a warning against the use of power.

    Nonetheless, there’s the ideal, and there’s the real world. One need only read the newspapers to see the use to which “there’s no such thing as playing it straight” has been put.

    Ideas have consequences, and they aren’t always those desired by the idea’s original proponents.

  30. Trust must be earned.

    Frankly, all these “isolated incidents” don’t inspire me to trust any in the “justice” field.

  31. R C-

    Except that all too often in the context of the US Attorneys firing (or anything else done by the Bush administration) “everything is political” is offered as a reason to not get upset over what the Bushies did.

    I’m confident that there is no such thing as a completely non-political appointment by a President. But I’m also confident that some appointments are less political than others.

    Regarding what Pro Libertate said, even the need to maintain appearances can be a type of check against the worst abuses. Maintaining at least the appearance of neutrality means that you need to have some people who know how to play nice with others, and you need to make sure that at least some of the people from your team are competent. It isn’t great, but it’s something.

    The Bushies recognized something about government that libertarians also recognize: Everything involves politics and clashes of interests. Once you recognize that fact there are 2 possible responses: (1) “Holy shit, we’d better keep this thing in check!” and (2) “Sweet!”

  32. thoreau,

    The veneer lacks honesty, but it also can prevent some abuses, too.

  33. Pro Libertate-

    I agree, the veneer is not completely honest. The problem is that when the veneer is pulled off we tend not to get a widespread moment of clarity that leads to rejection of the power structure. Instead, we get some people who say “Oh, yeah, I guess it really is a tool for the dominant faction to do whatever it wants–SWEET!” and everybody else is like “Can I have my veneer back?”

  34. I had thought that the Clinton administration was pushing the executive power thing too much, and, lo and behold, the Bush administration jumped in and expanded it some more. I expect the same of whoever wins the White House this time around.

    I was also pissed off by the executive branch in Iran-Contra. I don’t know why all of us common folk can’t just agree on a platform of limiting these guys’ power. They do things to offend all of us, after all.

  35. The problem with “Iran-Contra” is that the news media and legal system weren’t honest-enough to call it what it was: “Cocaine Contra.” Like it or not, “drug warriors” you’re hypocrites and we busted you, whether or not the Department of “Justice” bothered to do its job because the scandal was BIpartisan. This is yet-another in my series of Libertarian “I told you so’s” and I know some of you hate it, but that’s what makes it so much fun.
    JMR

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