President Bush has announced his pick to step in as head of the Justice Department: Michael B. Mukasey. With eighteen years experience as a federal judge in the US District Court for the Southern District, and more in private practice, Mukasey is said to be a conservative judge with 'an independent streak.' There seems to be some optimism for his successful confirmation across party lines, given that he's not a 'Washington insider.' The media has also described him as 'tough on terrorism;' he supports the Patriot Act's incursions on personal privacy in the name of national security. While progressives know that the President's other top choices may have been far worse, there remains much concern about whether or not Mukasey will continue to erode the delicate balance upon which our democracy is built.
DMI has stressed the importance of the role of the Attorney General as "the head of the world’s largest law office, the chief enforcer of federal laws, and the primary guardian of our Constitutional rights." Given his past rulings such as that concerning Osama Awadallah, will Mukasey be able safeguard fairness and equal access in our justice system? He has recently said that he supports maintaining the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay as well as the use of 'enhanced' interrogation methods for political detainees.
What is clear is that Mukasey would be stepping into a mess, as the investigation of the Justice Department's shady past is nowhere near over. According to the Washington Post, Democratic Senators are thinking of capitalizing on Mukasey's confirmation in order to leverage access to sensitive administration documents pertaining to their investigation of controversial departmental happenings under Gonzales, from attorney firings to treatment of federal detainees.
"Replacing an attorney general is part but not all of what needs to be done to restore trust in the Justice Department," [Senator] Leahy said after his half-hour meeting with Mukasey. "The confirmation process can be a catalyst for resolving outstanding issues between the Senate and the administration. I hope that will happen now."
Similarly, the ACLU has encouraged Congress to demand a "Four Part Pledge Before Confirming Bush Attorney General Nominee." The ACLU seeks access to documentation related to unauthorized wiretapping and detention practices, the appointment of an independent counsel for investigation of torture and abuse of detainees, and, our favorite: The creation of a "blue-ribbon committee of civil rights advisors to focus on restoring the Civil Rights Division to its historic role as the nation's premier and nonpartisan civil rights enforcement agency."