Saturday, October 25, 2008

On government lawyers making things worse

With the US presidential election looming Edward Lazarus has been thinking about how high level government lawyers in the Bush and Clinton adminstrations have done so much damage.

"What hath high-ranking government lawyers wrought over the last dozen years? Well, to start with, they cooked up the brilliant idea of impeaching a president (for only the second time in history) not for malfeasance with respect to a matter of state, but for lying about having an affair with a White House intern. And in addition to cloaking this transparently-partisan maneuver in the garb of high principle, they debased the office of the president (and their own enterprise) by crafting legal arguments that displayed a perverse and weirdly voyeuristic interest in the tawdry details of the president's sexual encounters...

And then there is lawyers' role in Bush v. Gore.

the lawyers who joined the Bush Administration set to work justifying an unprecedented expansion of purportedly unreviewable Executive Branch authority, including the authority to flout both international law and the express demands of Congress if they were seen by the President to be in conflict with the way he sought to play his role as Commander-in-Chief. Within this aggrandized vision of Executive Branch power, the Administration's lawyers put their skills to the task of justifying the use of torture, and the incarceration of large numbers of people indefinitely and without recourse to counsel or other outside contact for an indefinite period of time. To the extent that they have tried to prosecute terrorism cases in the federal courts, moreover, the government's lawyers have played so many hide-the-ball tactical games (for instance, seeking to proceed upon secret evidence that the defendant cannot rebut because he cannot see it) that even many conservative judges have become exasperated.

At the same time, these lawyers pushed for domestic surveillance programs of dubious legality while trying to make an end run anyone who raised objections, even the acting Attorney General. They also used extra-legal means to attack political critics, including leaking the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. And not least, they undermined the integrity, credibility, and morale of the Justice Department by pressuring U.S. Attorneys to bring prosecutions for partisan purposes and by filling rank-and-file civil service positions based on ideology, rather than merit."

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