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Just as the publication of another batch of his memos—repudiated by the Bush Justice Department just as it was handing the keys over to its successor—is causing quite a stir in legal circles, John Yoo appears in an interview in the Orange County Register.
He is not asked about the basis for his conclusions that the president’s commander-in-chief powers trump the First and Fourth Amendments, perspectives that yesterday caused Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger to say he could “never get over how bad these opinions were,” while Yale’s Jack Balkin said they laid out a “theory of presidential dictatorship.”
But Yoo musters some defense nevertheless:
These memos I wrote were not for public consumption. They lack a certain polish, I think–would have been better to explain government policy rather than try to give unvarnished, straight-talk legal advice.
Of course, under the Judiciary Act of 1789, OLC memos fix government legal policy and are binding on all government agencies. The Justice Department has made a practice of publishing them for more than a century. But Yoo does not feel constrained by these facts when he speaks with the popular media; the facts might complicate things.
Does Yoo mind the withering criticism he’s taking over his secretive scribblings?
I think the job of a lawyer is to give a straight answer to a client. One thing I sometimes worry about is that lawyers in the future in the government are going to start worrying about, ‘What are people going to think of me?’ Your client the president, or your client the justice on the Supreme Court, or your client this senator, needs to know what’s legal and not legal. And sometimes, what’s legal and not legal is not the same thing as what you can do or what you should do.
I hear a distinct echo of Carl Schmitt at home in San Casciano in the post-war years explaining why there was nothing wrong with his legal engagement in the prior decade. But no doubt about it, any wannabe dictator would love to have John Yoo as his lawyer. Whether he actually uses the dictatorial powers Yoo gives him, bulldozing over the Constitution, is entirely up to the wannabe dictator, says John Yoo.
Yoo appears ready to make a permanent move to Orange County, and he has nothing but contempt for Berkeley, where he still holds a tenured professorship. “Berkeley is sort of a magnet for hippies, protesters and left-wing activists. So I’m not surprised that being one of the few recognizable conservatives on campus that I would generate a lot of heat and friction.” He explains that he was lured to Chapman University to teach as a visitor by his good friend (and fellow Clarence Thomas clerk) John Eastman, the law school’s distinctly right-leaning dean.
But he doesn’t explain one curious fact. He was originally announced as the “Bette and Wylie Aitken Distinguished Visiting Professor”—the holder of a specially endowed professorship set up by Chapman trustee and well-known attorney Wylie Aitken for a “prominent legal scholar whose expertise will compliment the strengths of the law school’s existing class offerings.” But it subsequently became clear that Yoo did not receive this appointment. Why not, I wonder?
Update, March 10, 2009: A letter from Dr. Eastman corrects the section above.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”