Admittedly, I’m really entertained by the idea of Pat Robertson endorsing Rudy Giuliani, but that’ll have to wait until later. For now my main concern is the coming Senate vote on Michael Mukasey. As I’ve mentioned previously, Mukasey was approved by the Judiciary Committee and sent on to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. He’s certainly got enough votes to pass, so the only chance of preventing his confirmation would be a filibuster, which would only require 40 votes. And even that might be a challenge.
I realize I’ve been harping on this one, and I think it’s fair that I explain why. Now, y’all may remember this chap, who has a pretty damn good claim on the title of Worst Attorney General Ever:
During Gonzales’s tenure as AG, it appears that the Justice Department was transformed into a wing of the Republican political machine, and ultimately collapsed in a sorry wreck of scandal and resignations. Thus, the initial reaction of the Senate to Judge Mukasey was “he can’t possibly be worse than the last guy, let’s get him in there.” This opinion was only furthered by the perception that Mukasey had stood up to the Bush Administration in the Padilla case.
Of course, as is ever the case in these things, a quick look under the surface revealed multiple causes for alarm. Now, as clear as it was (and still is) that Mukasey would not go in for the sort of partisan shenanigans that were the hallmark of the Gonzales DoJ, his record on executive authority is less than reassuring. For example, in that Padilla ruling, despite its assertion that Jose Padilla had the right to legal counsel, Mukasey made it clear that he was comfortable with the President exercising a power to declare American citizens “enemy combatants,” and arrest them without charge.
Allow me to pause a moment to explain that one. Under Anglo-American law dating back to the Magna Carta (and arguably earlier), the government can not arrest you without charging you with a crime, then granting you access to a court of law in which you can defend yourself. For a judge to concede that an executive has an inherent authority to abrogate those rights by determining that you are an “enemy combatant” (a determination which is not subject to review by anyone but the executive) is to undermine one of the founding principles of our government. So, yeah, maybe a problem in the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
The shit really hit the fan, though, when the Judiciary Committee began to question Mukasey on the use by American intelligence agents of “waterboarding,” which the press refers to as a “controversial procedure,” and the rest of the world refers to as torture. (For an excellent take on the press’s absurd attempts to present a “debate” about the merits of torture, check out this article.) Despite constant questioning, Mukasey refused to state that he thought the practice was illegal. This caused most of the Democrats on the Committee to declare their opposition to his nomination, and suddenly things were looking up.
However, apparently Mukasey met privately with Chuck Schumer and assured him that, should the Congress pass a law explicitly banning waterboarding, he would enforce said law. Now, there are many proper reactions to such an assurance, ranging in eloquence from Senator Kennedy’s to “Whoop-de-friggin-do, we already have about a half-dozen laws against waterboarding, why don’t you enforce those?” But Schumer’s was to vote for him.
So now, short a filibuster, we’ll have an Attorney General who, while neither a partisan flack nor a religious fanatic obsessed with the breasts of Justice, will not stand in the way of a President who claims the power to imprison citizens at will, ignore Congressional statute, and torture people. Indeed, he may even actively abet such claims. This is a problem. To explain why this is a problem, I’ll turn to Senator Lindsey Graham, who (despite his support for Mukasey’s nomination) gave one of the more eloquent statements I’ve heard on these matters during the Judiciary Committee’s vote Tuesday:
The world is not short of people and countries who will waterboard you. There’s not a shortage of people who will cut your heads off in the name of religion. There is a shortage of people who believe in justice, not vengeance.