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April 9, 2007

Press Contact: Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, (512) 471.7330 or kfortune@law.utexas.edu.

COMMENTARY

Bickerstaff: For putting politics first, Gonzales should resign

By Steve Bickerstaff, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW
Published with the authors' permissions;
The Austin American-Statesman (Monday, April 09, 2007)
Link to original article

Two years ago, I wrote a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee recommending the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general of the United States. I was pleased to do so. I was especially pleased when he told the Senate and this country that he would be the attorney general for everyone, not for just one political party or one man, the president.

Last week in Washington D.C., I suggested Gonzales should resign.

Most of the recent criticism of Gonzales has occurred because of concern that he lied to the United States Senate about his role in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. There are apparent differences between how Gonzales has explained his role and how certain documents and the congressional testimony from his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, depict it. The two versions, however, are not irreconcilable. Gonzales' defense is that he signed off on the firings but took little or no part in deciding who to fire, or why, or when. This scenario is actually far more troubling than the possibility that he earlier misstated his involvement.

I first became alarmed about the politicizing of important decisions in the Department of Justice while researching a book, "Lines in the Sand," about the 2003 congressional redistricting in Texas. Based on that research and three decades of experience with the Justice Department under six presidential administrations, I concluded that there is a greater politicizing of key decisions now in the agency's Civil Rights Division, particularly the Voting Section, than ever in my lifetime.

Subsequent disclosures have shown that critical policy and personnel decisions throughout the agency are effectively controlled by political functionaries within the White House, such as Karl Rove, or the Republican party. Inexperienced, politically ambitious, servile and unctuous facilitators have been implanted within the Justice Department to extend one-party control deeply into the agency. As a result, many important decisions are based largely on their political effect rather than on a just and fair application of the laws. Party loyalty is rewarded. Competency — especially if it comes with a risk of independent thought and action — is feared.

The U.S. Department of Justice should be the least partisan of all federal agencies. Its employees are entrusted with implementing and enforcing some of the most critical laws of this country. The laws should be enforced for the good of the nation, not for partisan advantage. Though I do not believe that Gonzales instigated the politicizing of the agency's decisions, he has been unwilling or unable to prevent it. He has failed to meet his pledge of being the attorney general for all the people.

Will Gonzales resign?

Yes, if he expects that his resignation will end the threat of a congressional investigation that could embarrass the White House. However, Congress must not stop with a Gonzales resignation. A thorough airing of the problems of politicizing in the Justice Department is necessary to correct the current situation and to send a warning that such politicizing is unacceptable in the future from Republican or Democratic administrations.

Bickerstaff is an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law.