Center for American Progress

The Department of Justice and the American People Deserve a Break

The Department of Justice and the American People Deserve a Break

Mark Agrast on why we need more than just a change in leadership to repair the damage done during Gonzales' tenure.

First we had John Ashcroft, whose tenure was marked by disdain for the Constitution he had sworn to uphold: the abuse of prosecutorial discretion; the politicization of the Department of Justice; the withholding of information from Congress, the public, and the courts; the systematic violation of the civil liberties of Americans; the indefinite detention of many hundreds of non-citizens with no connection to the 9/11 attacks; and, perhaps worst of all, the scurrilous attacks on the patriotism of those who dared to disagree.

Who could have imagined that things could get worse?

Yet Ashcroft’s successor often seemed more a White House functionary than the attorney general of the United States. Alberto Gonzales was ever-willing to subordinate the needs of justice to the demands of his political masters—crossing lines that even his predecessor had refused to cross. His cavalier disregard for the rule of law and his tenuous grasp of the responsibilities of his office were an embarrassment to the Department of Justice and an insult to the American people.

Now Gonzales is gone, but the department he headed lies in ruins—its morale shattered and its credibility at an all-time low. If the damage is to be repaired, there must be not only a change in leadership but a change of heart. If Americans are to regain their confidence in the administration of justice, we must have an attorney general of unimpeachable integrity who understands his (or her) duty to uphold the Constitution and is prepared to carry it out.

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