Today is the first day of the rest of my life, having completed the layoff process on Friday, and I don't know if it could be a nicer morning here in Atlanta to start the vagabond writer's life I've chosen (at least until the severance runs out).
Today is also the day that George Bush is reportedly going to announce the nomination of retired judge Michael Mukasey as our next Attorney General. From what I'm seeing in the media coverage and around the Web, I can't help but feel optimistic that a Mukasey nomination would reintroduce key elements of professionalism at Justice, and put at its helm a man of great knowledge, experience, and possessed by a profound respect for the rule of law.
On that note, one wonders why such a person would choose to work for an administration that by all accounts disdains independent thinkers and meddles incessantly in the policy workings of all executive departments. Perhaps Mukasey is tough enough to stand down the political urchins left at the White House now that Karl Rove has headed for greener pastures.
Glenn Greenwald has written a soberly positive assessment of the judge, noting his willingness to rule in favor of the law at a time when few had the courage to stand against the president. At Firedoglake, Scarecrow wonders whether a Harriet Miers-style hatchet job will come from the right, but this seems improbable against a person with genuine and respected accomplishments. Bush's Achilles heel has always been his desire to stock the executive branch with know-nothing lackeys who are even further in over their heads than he is, and thus unable to challenge him.
My concern, and one I'll have to look further into, is Mukasey's apparent belief that terrorism suspects should be tried in a special alternative system of justice. I haven't read his Wall Street Journal op-ed on the subject, but I have a sincere belief that despite many failings and shortcomings, our system of justice works.
I can think of a few other alternate systems of justice that we have in the United States. Our immigration system contains special immigration courts where individuals present evidence against government immigration lawyers to determine their status. My understanding is that when an immigrant is charged with a crime, he or she is tried in regular old courts and sentenced (or released) using the regular old system of law. The immigration courts are constituted because of the very narrow issues that are argued in them and the specialized knowledge required to decide them. I don't believe that immigration courts are ever charged with deciding capital crimes.
The military, which operates under a slightly different set of laws (as well as the standard legal system we all share) also has its own courts, and penalties under military law can include the death sentence. It's worth noting that the military is all-volunteer, and when it hasn't been, members have been conscripted for set periods of time to live under the strictures of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
So I worry about an "alternative" system of justice that can dole out executions and other intense punishment using innovative approaches to evidence. In a democracy, we are ultimately responsible for the behavior of our government, and if it creates secret courts and legal black holes to throw the accused into, we're skating the edge of a very slippery, very serious problem.
As for Justice, I'm quite certain that the career lawyers at DOJ are breathing a huge sigh of relief today. Regardless of your politics, every workplace calls for steady and respectable leadership. Hopefully the next AG, whether it's Mukasey or someone else, will finally provide it.