Keeping Some Perspective on Gonzales' Resignation

As I head off to the jail to see two federal clients in pre-trial detention whose cases won't be affected one whit by Gonzales' resignation, I thought I'd reprint what I wrote in April:

What will change with Gonzales gone? Bush will appoint another one of his loyal faves to replace him. The war on drugs, war on civil liberties and trend towards draconian sentences will continue. Say what you want about Gonzales, he's nowhere near the threat to constitutional rights that John Ashcroft was. He's continued Ashcroft's policies, but he seems to be more of a follower than a take-charge innovator of new ways to deprive people of their freedom.

As for the fired U.S. Attorneys, they all got the job in the first place because they had connections ... either to their state's Senators or to someone in the Bush Administration. None of them got the job because they were the most skilled litigators in their respective jurisdictions. Once installed in the top position, they all put people in jail, including non-violent drug offenders. They're prosecutors, that's what they do.


As for the argument that morale at the 93 U.S. Attorneys' office around the country is foundering, I'm not seeing it ... Every day around the country, defendants are being convicted and sentenced to overly long prison sentences. Maybe morale is low at Main Justice, but it should be. They got caught with their pants down and tried to finagle, if not lie, their way out of it. But, everywhere else in the country according to the lawyers I speak with on both sides, it's business as usual.

So I'm finding it to be less and less an interesting story. Especially now that everyone wants to jump on the Dump Gonzales bandwagon. As if dumping him will make our criminal justice system any fairer.

What we need is to focus on getting a Democrat elected in 2008, one who has progressive views on criminal justice and will appoint an Attorney General who shares those views.

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    Thanks J. (none / 0) (#1)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 11:38:33 AM EST
    For those wondering, I specifically asked Jeralyn to remind us what means the most to those most effected.

    As someone who strongly expressed my view that Gonzales should resign or be impeached, I think it is important to remember what the most important role is from Justice and who it effects most directly.

    Let's hope the concernds Jeralyn articulates become an important part of the debate over the confirmation of the next AG.

    I agree with you to an extent... (none / 0) (#2)
    by Deconstructionist on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 11:45:00 AM EST
    ...but the AG is more than just the "chief prosecutor" for the U.S. Courts. People who work day to day in the U.S. Courts (or more importantly, who are defendants) are unlikely to see any difference but the AG runs the entire Justice Department and it is an extremely powerful position. A change in leadership could have a profound impact across society . That it likely won't has everything to do with the nature of the likely replacement and nothing to do with the importance of the job.

      Merely choosing when and what side the Justice Department enters the fray on the major civil law issues of the day makes the AG extremely important even totally excluding criminal law. Running a huge bureaucracy with a presence and immense power in every jurisdiction in the country is also extremely important. A policy decision simply diverting resources from one priority --say prosecuting illegal immigrants (pardon my French) and/or ramping up deportation proceedings against visa violators --- to another, say, targeting industrial polluters who violate laws and regulations can have tremendous impact.

    Agreed (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 11:49:35 AM EST
    Thanks, Decon, I think we are saying the same thing. There won't be that policy shift with any Bush appointee which is why we need a Democrat with different policies in office. It's the prosecutorial priorities we need to change at Justice.

    A small example: No matter who Bush appoints will continue the raids on medical marijuana clinics in states that have legalized medical pot. All eight Democratic contenders for President have now said they would end them.


    I Disagree (none / 0) (#3)
    by BDB on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 11:49:04 AM EST
    I can understand how, as a defense lawyer, it may seem to you that there have been little changes under Gonzales.  It certainly is true that federal prosecutions continue, that even Gonzales wasn't able to totally stop DOJ lawyers from doing their work.  It's true that some of that work, particularly related to the drug war, should concern progressives and is ripe for reform.  A lot of the work, however, is pretty basic criminal prosecution stuff.  If there's a problem in protecting basic constitutional rights in these cases, I think it has more to do with the rightward shift in Court opinions about what's permissible than the day-to-day work of most career prosecutors.

    What gets lost in the Gonzales stuff is the poor morale of the career staff, which may not seem like it should matter to those who work on the defense side, but I think that's looking at it the wrong way.  The reason it matters that the Department is in a shambles is that good career lawyers have other options and have been exercising those options both at Main DOJ and the USAOs.

    Many of the USAOs are down dozens of prosecutors as well as civil lawyers.  That may seem like a good thing from a defense lawyer perspective (or plaintiff's lawyer if you're suing the Government), but I think that's taking the short-term view.  The staffing levels will return to normal, but the replacements will have been selected under a system set up by Gonzales and his henchmen.  For example, in recent years, based on the published job announcements, DOJ seems to have dropped the requirement that applicants graduate from accredited law schools.  

    The importance of the USAO scandal is that the scheme to massively replace career folks with Monica Goodlings was caught mid-way through.  Many offices at Main DOJ and USAO remain under-staffed and will be hiring.  It is absolutely critical that the next AG be committed to hiring a capable, non-ideological career staff.  Critical because a lot of the cases handled by DOJ (which go beyond criminal prosecutions) are important and the American public deserves to have capable lawyers handling them.  Critical because whatever other failings of the justice system, adding a layer of politicization only makes it worse.  And critical to those who want to try to reform the justice system under a progressive Administration because political hacks in career guise (or simply bad lawyers) can undermine these efforts.  

    fair enough then, and fair enough now, but (none / 0) (#5)
    by scribe on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 11:58:29 AM EST
    to be fair to the comment, it proceeds from the assumption or supposition (take your pick) that the person selected to head the DoJ in any administration will be anything other than a cop and a friend of cops.  

    Or, as I said in a different context to a disappointed supplicant about an acquaintance who was a high-ranking official at a large financial institution (and also a relative of supplicant):  

    "He's a high priest in the temple of Capitalism.  He got to be one by being a better, more observant capitalist and making more profit than all the other similarly-qualified folks he came into the business with.  And you expected him to part with his money for other than something which would bring him profit?"

    And the appointee to be the new AG will be another one of the cookie-cutter uber-cops* lined up many-deep waiting to move up.  Many of whom are Democratic-affiliated, FWIW.

    To get fulfillment of what you seem to want, TL, the cops would have to go away.  Ain't gonna happen.  The Money Party remembers the last time the People Party got what they wanted, and that was in the name of Ramsey Clark.  Won't happen again.

    Yes, Gonzo was a lackey and an apparent idiot and not very creative in the use of the manifold powers he had to torture and abuse the freedoms which are the birthrights of all Americans.  Likewise, he was not very inventive in seeking new ways and powers to do that.  For that, we can be grateful.  He left that sort of chicanery to the Bright Young Thugs like Clement (who never, it would seem, met a form of torture he couldn't find a sophistry to justify), Yoo, Delahunty, Addington, and all the rest.

    Frankly, I would have rather that Gonzo stayed, both because he was a f'k-up and moreso because his leaving means a new offensive is coming - you get rid of an inept or ineffective general before you start the new offensive, and make sure you pick the most aggressive, hungry subordinate to be the new general.

    * Sorry, no umlauts  on my keyboard.

    Well... you make a good point, Jeralyn (none / 0) (#6)
    by Edger on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 12:08:28 PM EST
    Say what you want about Gonzales, he's nowhere near the threat to constitutional rights that John Ashcroft was. He's continued Ashcroft's policies, but he seems to be more of a follower

    But followers can be very dangerous too:

    What about those of us who knew better, we who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country. What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights?
    Ernst Janning Confesses his Guilt to the Tribunal

    what the resignation means (none / 0) (#7)
    by BlueAubie on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 06:09:04 PM EST
    A victory here is that his resignation sends a signal to all bureaucrats that you really are supposed to use your office to serve the people and not use it for political purposes.  Rove made everything about politics- forget duty, responsibility, ethics.

    Also it's a partial victory for those of us fighting to maintain our nations "liberal" foundation in our Bill of Rights.

    The firing of attornies is getting the headlines, but Congress would not have forced the issue so much if he had not called the Geneva Conventions quaint, suspended habeaus corpus, etc.  

    Yeah, they'll replace him with another bum, but the political landscape is changing.

    Conspiracy? (none / 0) (#8)
    by RaceNut on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 06:52:38 PM EST
    Is AG's resignation Bush/Cheney' payback for the Democrats going along with the FISA court "improvements?"