No Comment — September 17, 2007, 11:32 am

Confirm Michael Mukasey

The president has nominated former federal judge Michael Mukasey to serve as the next attorney general. The Senate will have plenty of questions to ask and issues to raise, and it should take this confirmation seriously. But it should move expeditiously to approval, recognizing that this is the first essential step towards taking the Justice Department off of life-support and making it a functioning agency once more.

I have known Michael Mukasey for over twenty years and I have a pretty good sense of his views on a great many issues. Frankly, there are not many issues on which we agree. I am a civil libertarian and human rights advocate, while Mukasey is driven by a concern for national security–his many years on the bench tell him that our criminal justice system is inadequate to the task of trying terrorists. I recently parsed his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal looking for some important points I could agree with, and struggled to find them. Many of the civil liberties that Mukasey sees as vulnerabilities I see as strengths.

Nevertheless, I consider Mukasey a highly qualified candidate and am prepared to support him with enthusiasm. Why? First, the president is entitled to nominate a candidate who represents his views on legal policy. I don’t think there’s room for a ray of light to pass between the Bush Administration and Mukasey, frankly. Mukasey has been close to Rudy Giuliani for many years, but those who know him also recognize that Mukasey is more of a traditional social conservative than Giuliani, which is to say he is actually closer to Bush than to Giuliani on a series of legal policy issues. Critics who argue that the next attorney general should turn from the Administration’s viewpoint are not being realistic. That is not the way our system works, and to hold to such a posture would only result in an administrative gridlock that would serve no one’s interests.

Second, Mukasey is not just a prominent judge, he is a judicious personality. That is to say, he has one much-underrated quality in abundance: the ability to listen carefully, weigh facts and arguments, and then form decisions. He does not rush to judgment. Having an attorney general who can listen carefully and deliberate will be a refreshing change. Mukasey will be a perfect person to lead a discussion of the current policy issues on the horizon—over extension and modification of FISA, over military commissions, over the national security court, and similar matters. He will represent Bush faithfully and advise him well; but he will also listen carefully and ensure a more effective effort to form a national consensus on these matters than we have seen up to this point.

Third, Mukasey is a lawyer’s lawyer. He actually cares a great deal about the law and what it provides; he approaches a question very carefully and with appropriate respect and deference for statutes and precedent. He knows how to separate and he does separate his own political views from what the law says. We haven’t had an attorney general like that in quite a long time and we’re past due. In fact, having an attorney general who places emphasis on the traditional virtues of a great profession will be a very good thing for the Bush Administration and for the Justice Department.

Fourth, the Department of Justice faces a crisis of morale and confidence the likes of which it has rarely seen in American history. The only recent parallel was in the months following Watergate, when Gerald Ford chose Edward Levi as attorney general (and that nomination is certainly the closest in modern times to the selection of Mukasey). Mukasey is a man who first made his career as a prosecutor working for the Department of Justice and who was clearly moved, long into his later career, by love for the Department. That makes him a perfect person to address the internal problems of the department. We face a number of pressing policy issues relating to law and the administration of justice, but they are all somehow dwarfed by the institutional troubles of the Department of Justice. This great ship has been tragically steered into a shoals and it is now in real danger. I think Mukasey is just the pilot to steer it clear again.

Civil libertarians will find no shortage of things to dislike about Michael Mukasey. But they should stop and recognize that he reflects the fundamentally conservative values which are essential to making our government work, and which have been often missing in a government that calls itself conservative, but really is not. Mukasey is a true conservative in much the same sense that Edmund Burke was a conservative. And perhaps that’s the strongest argument that can be mustered for his confirmation.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2014

Poison Apples

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Growing Up

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Gateway to Freedom

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Guns and Poses

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Christmas in Prison

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Beeper World·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The beeper, for a certain kind of Miami teenager in the Nineties, was an essential evolutionary adaptation.”
Photograph by Curran Hatleberg
Article
Hammer Island·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The place could have sprung from someone’s jealous dream about white people.”
Photograph by Emily Stein
Article
Growing Up·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The best coming-of-age stories have a hole in the middle. They pretend to be about knowledge, but they are usually about grasping, long after it could be of any use, one’s irretrievable ignorance.”
Photograph by Ben Pier
Article
Guns and Poses·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘It’s open shopping,’ he said. ‘A warehouse. The whole of Libya.’”
Map by Mike Reagan
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Amount that President Obama has added to America’s “brand value” according to the Nation Brands Index:

$2,100,000,000,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

A Utah woman named Cameo Crispi pleaded guilty to having drunkenly attempted to burn down her ex-boyfriend’s house by igniting bacon on his kitchen stove.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today