A Modest Proposal

May 3rd, 2007at 11:22am Posted by Eli

Reagan’s second-term DAG has some thoughts on the DoJ:

There is no doubt that the confidence of the American public in the ability of the department to administer justice evenhandedly has been badly shaken, and the morale at the department has been significantly eroded. Why? Because the overall perception, right or wrong, is that the department is highly political and that when Mr. Gonzales left his job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to become attorney general at 10th and Constitution, he did not appreciate that he had truly changed jobs.

Whatever happens to Mr. Gonzales, the taint will remain. That’s why the only real solution is to depoliticize the Justice Department, to do away with the appearance of anyone playing politics there.

(…)

The solution is to have the attorney general appointed to a fixed term – say, 15 years – that wouldn’t be coterminous with the tenure of the president who appoints him. As with the director of the F.B.I. (a 10-year term) and the chairman of the Federal Reserve (a four-year, renewable term), the appointment would be made by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. Congress’s oversight would ensure that no political hack or crony of the president could be handed the job.

Likewise, the 93 United States attorneys should not be political apparatchiks, but talented lawyers selected half from Republican ranks and half from Democratic, following the system used for regulatory bodies like the Federal Communications Commission. These men and women should also be subject to Senate confirmation.

Changes in the occupant of the White House should not affect the way justice is administered. If the Gonzales mess ends up giving us an apolitical Department of Justice, the American people will be well served.

Burns is absolutely correct that the DoJ and AG should be apolitical and not subservient to the White House, but I’m more than a little skeptical about his strategy.

First of all, Senate confirmation guarantees absolutely nothing – Bush has rammed countless cronies through the compliant Republican Senate he enjoyed up until recently. My recommendation would be that a 60- or 67-vote supermajority be required to confirm appointees for any position whose term extends beyond the president’s. If they are supposed to be nonpartisan and apolitical, then they should require broad bipartisan support, or else they simply represent an irresistible opportunity for a president to impose his partisan will beyond his allotted term of office.

My other concern is 50-50 party split of the US Attorneys, which he compares to bipartisan panels like the FCC (another agency that’s done such a great job of protecting the public interest from the Republicans’ interest). The problem is that the US Attorneys are not a committee or board or panel or any other kind of voting body; they have near-absolute prosecutorial power within their individual territories, which allows an unscrupulous USA to influence elections. If the President or Congress has discretion over where the Democratic and Republican attorneys are, what’s to stop the party in power from stacking swing states and big states with their own loyalists, where they can have the most impact? This is probably not an insurmountable concern, but it would have to be addressed – simple numerical balance is not enough.

Burns is definitely on the right track, I just don’t think he goes far enough to protect the system from the inevitable attempts to game it.

Entry Filed under: Corruption/Cronyism,Politics,Republicans


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