[JURIST] US Attorney General nominee Michael B. Mukasey [WH fact sheet; PBWT profile] told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Wednesday that he will work to balance national security and civil liberties if confirmed as the next attorney general. During a hearing on his nomination [witness list], Mukasey said in his opening statement [text] that he will hold Constitutional limits in high regard:
[T]he Justice Department's mission includes advising the other departments and agencies of government, including the President, on what choices they are free to make and what limits they face. Here too, the governing standard is what the law and Constitution permit and require.Mukasey went on to say that he understands the tension created between the desire for security and the desire to protect liberty, saying that:
I am here in the first instance to tell you, but also to tell the men and women of the Department of Justice, that those are the standards that guided the Department when I was privileged to serve 35 years ago, and those are the standards I intend to help them uphold if I am confirmed.
The dilemma is because the conflict is between two rights, each in its own way important. That is why I have told you during those discussions, and may have occasion to repeat again here today, that protecting civil liberties, and peoples confidence that those liberties are protected, is a part of protecting national security, just as is the gathering of intelligence to defend us from those who believe it is their duty to make war on us. We have to succeed at both. It is the honor and the privilege of the men and women of the Justice Department to help us do that, and if I am confirmed it will be my honor and privilege to try to help them help us.On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] said that the Senate will likely approve Mukasey without undue delay [JURIST report].
In his own opening statement [text] Wednesday, Leahy said:
Restoring the Department of Justice begins by restoring integrity and independence to the position of Attorney General of the United States. The Attorney Generals duty is to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law not to work to circumvent it. Both the President and the Nation are best served by an Attorney General who gives sound advice and takes responsible action, without regard to political considerations not one who develops legalistic loopholes to serve the ends of a particular administration. The Attorney General cannot interpret our laws to mean whatever the current President wants them to mean. The Attorney General is supposed to represent all of the American people, not just one of them. ...President George W. Bush formally nominated [JURIST report] Mukasey on September 17 to replace former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [JURIST news archive], who submitted his resignation [JURIST report] in August. AP has more.
We need a new Attorney General. We need someone who understands that the responsibilities and duties of that office are not to act as a mouthpiece or validator for the Administration, or as the chief defense lawyer for the White House. We are reminded by the examples of Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus from the Watergate era -- and more recently the examples of James Comey, Jack Goldsmith, and Alberto Mora -- that law enforcement officials must enforce the law without fear or favor to their benefactors at the White House or their political party. We have now seen what happens when the rule of law plays second fiddle to a Presidents policy agenda and the partisan desires of political operatives. ...
This is a job interview for a big job that has become even bigger. Along with helping keep Americans safe, protecting their rights, combating crime and enforcing the law, and managing more than 100,000 employees and a budget extending into the tens of billions of dollars, the next Attorney General must regain public trust and begin the process of repair and restoration.
This nomination can begin the repair process. I hope all Members of the Judiciary Committee, Democrats and Republicans alike, will join to restore the constitutional checks and balances that have been systematically eroded by this Administration, and I hope that we can begin that process this week.