Justice Is Not An Afterthought
After sitting through several more hours of the dodge and pony show from Alberto Gonzales, it occurred to me yesterday that every minute they drag this out is another minute of justice delayed for the nation and the Department of Justice. And it seems that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse agrees with that sentiment. He has written a superbly crafted op-ed in the National Law Journal that needs to be read and discussed in full:
• The attorney general does not respect his own institution. Time-honored traditions and practices of the Department of Justice, vital to the impartial administration of justice, have been gravely damaged. At least three — respect for career officials; careful policing of the boundary between the White House and the Justice Department; and selecting U.S. attorneys from the home district with full Senate confirmation — are bulwarks. The man who didn't care about or didn't notice their destruction is the wrong person to rebuild them.
• Pettiness rules. A hallmark of incompetent leadership is excessive deference, and the tone of the Justice Department is sickening. A U.S. attorney promises he'll be "pleasant and respectful" to get a meeting with the deputy attorney general. Another assures Justice Department officials he's still a "company man." One is fired for asking for reconsideration of a death penalty decision. Another is fired for "poor judgment" in organizing a letter to the deputy attorney general that was "not welcome." It makes your skin crawl.
• White House political operatives were all over the U.S. attorney firing decision. The wall carefully bricked up over decades to block White House political influence within the Department of Justice has been knocked down. Based on sound experience, previous administrations narrowed the list of people at the White House and Justice Department who could talk about criminal cases to only four White House officials (including the president and vice president) and only three Justice Department officials (including the attorney general). Under Gonzales, it's now 417 and 42, and Rove is among the 417.
• This problem will linger. The "consensus" management practiced by the attorney general leaves no person responsible for any decision, perhaps deliberately. Who decided, when and why, will take extensive investigative reconstruction. It won't go away.
It may take a decade to repair the damage caused by Attorney General Gonzales, and every day that passes without his resignation is one more day before the repair is begun. But will he go? From the perspective of Bush administration officials, a wounded, grateful attorney general on a very short leash may be just what they want as they try to exit Washington without further indictments. But that's not the attorney general America needs to maintain the best traditions of the Department of Justice and assure the fair administration of justice in our country. (emphasis mine)
The administration of justice, under the principles of fairness and equal application of the law, should never, ever be an afterthought. Sen. Whitehouse is correct that every day Alberto Gonzales stalls is another day of justice denied. It is well past time for the Bush Administration to stop stalling, and to put our nation's system of justice ahead of their own petty internal protections. It is time that the needs of the nation were put ahead of the ass-covering needs of the President and his political minions. But with the current crowd in the White House? I'm not exactly holding my breath.
A huge thank you to Sen. Whitehouse for speaking up on this publicly. Would that more former United States Attorneys and former career employees of the Department of Justice would step forward and do so as well, from either side of the political fence. Our nation's system of justice and the integrity of those men and women who uphold the rule of law for all of us hangs in the balance at the moment — and people of character and courage ought to stand up put their weight on the side of justice, raising their voices publicly to put our nation's interests ahead of the craven self-interest of the folks in Rove's political shop who are using the Attorney General's stalling tactics as their personal shield from being held accountable.
Justice is not, nor should it ever be, an afterthought. But it requires that true patriots stand up for what is right, over and over again over the course of history. Will you stand for justice? Or will history see you as being silent when your nation needed you most?
(Gorgeous photo via James at 41. I just love this shot — the drape of our flag, the detail of the stitching in the stars. Lovely.)