Friday, May 14, 2010

Politicizing the Department of Justice

I’ve been tough on Eric Holder (see here, here, here and here) on this blog because he routinely takes legal positions that he’s unprepared to defend. It’s not that disturbing to see, say, the Secretary of the Interior reward political friends and punish political enemies in making the public decisions committed to his discretion. In an Attorney General, entrusted with the even-handed administration of justice, it's intolerable.

We therefore have a right to expect that an Attorney General’s decisions will be visibly principled. It’s an essential part of his job not only to have principles, but to explain what they are. That’s why it became impossible to take Alberto Gonzales seriously in the last administration; he couldn’t hide the fact that he was a political hack making things up as he went along.

Being principled is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition, of administering the justice system impartially. We also have a right to expect that federal Attorneys General will stand above the political fray by not applying principles that are too readily identified with any particular political ideology. Granted, it’s hard to say in the abstract what makes a principle too ideological. For my money, Edwin Meese’s administration of the DOJ during the Reagan administration was tied a little too closely to the political aspirations of the conservative movement, but I wouldn’t hold it against a conservative who disagreed with me.

I’ve always assumed that Eric Holder belonged in the Ed Meese category rather than the Alberto Gonzales category. I thought that, although he could be faulted for applying principles in the administration of justice that are too visibly ideological, he was still trying to be principled. I wasn’t persuaded when conservatives argued, based on his connection with controversial pardons during the Clinton administration, that Holder’s a political hack.

Now I’m not so sure. Consider what Holder, who must have painstakingly prepared for the hearing, actually said to a congressional committee yesterday:

“Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who has been critical of Arizona's new immigration law, said Thursday he hasn't yet read the law and is going by what he's read in newspapers or seen on television.

“Mr. Holder is conducting a review of the law, at President Obama's request, to see if the federal government should challenge it in court. He said he expects he will read the law by the time his staff briefs him on their conclusions.

"'I've just expressed concerns on the basis of what I've heard about the law. But I'm not in a position to say at this point, not having read the law, not having had the chance to interact with people are doing the review, exactly what my position is,’ Mr. Holder told the House Judiciary Committee.

“This weekend Mr. Holder told NBC's ‘Meet the Press’ program that the Arizona law ‘has the possibility of leading to racial profiling.’ He had earlier called the law's passage ‘unfortunate,’ and questioned whether the law was unconstitutional because it tried to assume powers that may be reserved for the federal government."
Got that? The highest legal officer of the United States went on national television to cast doubt on the legality, and therefore the legitimacy, of a statute duly enacted by a sovereign state without bothering to read it. Perhaps his reasons for doing that weren’t as cynically political as they appear to be, but we know for sure that they weren’t legal reasons.

Eric Holder has to go.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Holder should be fired immediately. He is not up to this job. It frightens me to think that this individual is in the office he's in. Our country needs and deserves a strong attorney general who READS and is in touch with reality. He is a hack and not a very good one. Liberals and conservatives alike are fed up with him. Every day he remains in office is a negative reflection on this president. Obama - wake up.