January 6, 2005

Why Gonzales Will be Better Than Ashcroft

The New York Times is running two editorials on the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney-General, expected to occur after senate hearings today. The wide-spread criticism of Gonzales for the opinions he's given the Bush administration is justified to a certain degree, but I think (I HOPE) that these editorialists go a bit too far. I'm reasonably confident that Gonzales will be better than Ashcroft. Here's why:

Gonzales is disadvantaged by coming from a position as White House general counsel. He's being criticized for coming up with legal justifications for questionable portions of the Bush administrations political agenda (ok, "questionable" is an understatement). This is really unfair, because that is the jobof the White House general counsel! He's supposed to make up legal justifications for whatever the White House feels like doing. If the White House asks him what kind of interrogation techniques they can get away with, and he comes up with legal reasoning to justify throwing the Geneva Convention and federal torture statutes out the window, that doesn't say anything except that he's a good attorney. The administration, of course, should have said "that's very interesting. If the law technically allows this sort of behavior by some kind of loophole, we shall have to change the law, because torture is simply morally reprehensible." Instead, the administration decided to take advantage of the legal loopholes that Gonzales found. Now, it does appear, fortunately, that the courts are interpretting the law differently than Gonzales' legal memoranda and condemning the administrations behavior, but this doesn't count against Gonzales: He came up with the best legal reasoning possible to argue the administration's way to the widest lattitude possible with regard to interrogation techniques. That was his job, and he did it well.

So he was a good White House general counsel (to a bad White House, unfortunately). How will this make him a better Attorney-General than Ashcroft? Well, the Attorney-General is not (at least in theory) a personal employee of the administration. He works for the people, as our attorney, to enforce our laws. Ashcroft didn't know the difference between enforcing the law and advancing a political agenda. Does Gonzales? I think he does, and I think his record as a Texas Supreme Court Justice proves it. Gonzales was appointed to the Supreme Court of Texas by then-Governor Bush to fill a mid-term vacancy. Justices are ordinarily elected. It is interesting (ok, frightening) to note that every justice elected by the people of Texas was more conservative than any of the ones appointed by W. Anyway, Gonzales made most notably several pro-choice votes as a justice, sticking to the law in contrast to the judicial activism of another justice, Priscilla Owen. I think (I HOPE) this indicates that Gonzales truly does understand the difference between enforcing the law and advancing the Bush administration's political agenda. There is still cause to be concerned about the direction the government is headed, but I would venture to say that, in the next four years, the Attorney-General is going to be the least of our worries.

Posted by Kenny at January 6, 2005 3:02 PM
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