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Politics, The Rule Of Law, And You


(Yes, I am aware that the WVU Mountaineer statue has nothing whatsoever to do with this post.  But I'm still a little giddy over our NIT tourney win from last night, and I couldn't help posting a little celebratory photo.  Go, 'Eers!  Apologies in advance to any of our readers who are Clemson grads…)

NOTE:  I will be on Air America talking with Thom Hartmann today around 1:40-ish pm ET.

Via Digby, I found this op-ed in the LATimes from yesterday that clamors for reading and discussion.  It was written by the former head of the civil rights division at the DoJ, and it is a refrain that I have heard over and over again from current and former civil servants who continuously bump up against the Bush Administration's demands for fealty over any adherence to the rule of law.  From the LATimes:

This pattern also extended to hiring. In March 2006, Bradley Schlozman was appointed interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo. Two weeks earlier, the administration was granted the authority to make such indefinite appointments without Senate confirmation. That was too bad: A Senate hearing might have uncovered Schlozman's central role in politicizing the civil rights division during his three-year tenure.

Schlozman, for instance, was part of the team of political appointees that approved then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's plan to redraw congressional districts in Texas, which in 2004 increased the number of Republicans elected to the House. Similarly, Schlozman was acting assistant attorney general in charge of the division when the Justice Department OKd a Georgia law requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls. These decisions went against the recommendations of career staff, who asserted that such rulings discriminated against minority voters. The warnings were prescient: Both proposals were struck down by federal courts.

Schlozman continued to influence elections as an interim U.S. attorney. Missouri had one of the closest Senate races in the country last November, and a week before the election, Schlozman brought four voter fraud indictments against members of an organization representing poor and minority people. This blatantly contradicted the department's long-standing policy to wait until after an election to bring such indictments because a federal criminal investigation might affect the outcome of the vote. The timing of the Missouri indictments could not have made the administration's aims more transparent.

This administration is also politicizing the career staff of the Justice Department. Outright hostility to career employees who disagreed with the political appointees was evident early on. Seven career managers were removed in the civil rights division. I personally was ordered to change performance evaluations of several attorneys under my supervision. I was told to include critical comments about those whose recommendations ran counter to the political will of the administration and to improve evaluations of those who were politically favored.

Morale plummeted, resulting in an alarming exodus of career attorneys. In the last two years, 55% to 60% of attorneys in the voting section have transferred to other departments or left the Justice Department entirely.

The laws of this nation are not meant to be enforced for political expediency and to win elections. The courts do not exist to serve "Rove's shop" and "the math," and yet that is exactly how the Bush Administration has seen them from the time they entered office. A commitment to the "Rule of Bush, And Bush Alone" is not the same as advancing the interests of justice and honoring the rule of law, it simply is not. 

I keep thinking back to the GOP opposition to the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, the voter ID law shenanigans, and so many other instances over the last few years that I have lost count.  These were designed, in so many ways, to game the system for political advantage, regardless of the fact that it was an unethical perversion of the laws, their intent, and an overall attempt to thwart the sacred right of citizens in this nation to cast their own votes for their own political representation.

And I keep going back to "A Republic, if you can keep it," and wondering what else I should be doing to ensure that we do just that.

Will Thomas at The Muck caught a bit in a NYTimes article that I missed in yesterday's frenzy over the Sampson hearing — but it is VERY important and deserves a lot more scrutiny in the days ahead.  And it serves as a glaring example of why public testimony under oath is not only a good idea in terms of public scrutiny, but exactly why such disinfectant is needed in the first place.  From the NYTimes:

…The group meets in the Roosevelt Room and includes aides to the White House counsel, the chief of staff, the attorney general and Karl Rove, who also sometimes attends himself. Each of them signs off on every nomination.

Mr. Rove, a top adviser to the president, takes charge of the politics. As caretaker to the administration’s conservative allies, Mr. Rove relays their concerns, according to several participants in the Wednesday meetings. And especially for appointments of United States attorneys, he manages the horse trading….

Political advisers have had a hand in picking judges and prosecutors for decades, but Mr. Rove exercises unusually broad influence over political, policy and personnel decisions because of his closeness to the president, tenure in the administration and longstanding interest in turning the judiciary to the right.

In Illinois, Mr. Rove once reprimanded a Republican senator for recommending the appointment of Patrick J. Fitzgerald, a star prosecutor from outside the state, to investigate the state’s then-governor, a Republican. In New Jersey, Mr. Rove helped arrange the nomination of a major Bush campaign fund-raiser who had little prosecutorial experience. In Louisiana, he first supported and then helped scuttle a similar appointment….

Absolutely there are going to be political considerations involved in any appointment by a political branch for any appointee who works in the judiciary. That is absolutely true — and ought to be, because elections do have consequences.

But when those appointments are made not to advance the interests of justice and fairness and for the betterment of the communities that those people serve and the nation at large but, rather, to advance a particularly narrow agenda of getting more Republicans elected across the board at the state, local and national levels by gaming the system and pushing political considerations in prosecutions above all else? That is just wrong. It would be wrong for Democrats to do it as much as Republicans — because the judiciary is not to be used as a political bait and switch, or to provide cover for scurrilous, and otherwise illegal, plans all dressed up as prosecutorial initiatives. It is too important that the rule of law be followed for the sake of continuity and even-handed, blind application of justice.

Frankly, it is no wonder that Kyle Sampson did not recognize a distinction between politicization and performance assessments, because the Bush Administration makes no distinction other than "helpful to our agenda or not."  And their agenda, as driven by Rove's insatiable appetite for collecting power chits is as follows:  win at any cost.  That the cost is the taint of our democracy and the undermining of the rule of law is apparently of no consequence, and that is profoundly disturbing — and an argument for more and more Congressional oversight, if I ever saw one.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating: the Rule of Karl must end. For all of our sakes.  He is a one-man, malignant, festering boil that threatens to overtake the entire political system in this nation by turning it into an enormous cheating sinkhole.  And that is just plain wrong.  (And the fact that all of his minions have these convenient cases of "Rovenesia" whenever they are called to account is truly the last straw for me.  H/T to reader "WB" for that one.)

So I am asking you, for the sake of our nation, to stand up today and say "Enough!"

If there is a lesson in all of this it is that our Constitution is neither a self-actuating nor a self-correcting document. It requires the constant attention and devotion of all citizens. There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: "A republic, if you can keep it." The brevity of that response should not cause us to under-value its essential meaning: democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health.

Stand up today and be counted. Send a letter to the editor to your local paper. Call into a local talk radio show. Call or fax your elected representatives and tell them how you are feeling about these issues. Talk with your co-workers or family or friends. Reach out beyond the usual bloggy hangouts, and do something to advance the notion that in this nation of ours, whatever change we wish to see is up to all of us.   Every single day.  And, I don't know about you guys, but I have damn well had enough.

Now, let's get to work.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com