Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mukasey & The Unitary Executive

According to a story in today's NY Times, Senate Democrats intend to press Judge Mukasey for assurances that as Attorney General, he will act independently of political influence from the White House. The story also reports that Mukasey will likely take measures to ensure just such independence. Here's a series of questions that might fruitfully be asked:

1) Do you believe in the unitary executive?

2) If so, how do you square that principle with your assurances that the Justice Dept under your leadership will act independently of political influence by the White House?

3) If not, will you attempt to rein in reliance on the principle of the unitary executive in OLC memos and other official administration pronouncements? Would that include signing statements?

Posted by Mike Dorf

9 comments:

egarber said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't there basically two unitary executive dynamics that should be pursued in questioning:

1. Do you believe in the Unitary Executive insofar as you must do exactly what the president wants done politically -- since you report to him and he is the face of the executive branch?

2. How much do you believe in "coordinate construction"? Can the president ignore a court ruling or Congress because he has equal power to interpret the constitution?

Now that I think about it, this is basically what you said. oh well.

egarber said...

Here are some signs that he might lean against the idea.

From the NY Times:

"Mr. Mukasey also pleased the Democrats who control the Judiciary Committee by saying that he considered torture of terrorist suspects to be illegal under American and international law and that the president did not have the authority to order it under any circumstances.

"Torture is unlawful under the laws of this country," Mr. Mukasey said. "It is not what this country is all about. It is not what this country stands for. It's antithetical to everything this country stands for.

"Soldiers of this country liberated concentration camps toward the end of World War II and photographed what they saw there as a record of the barbarism we opposed. We didn't do it that so that we could then duplicate it ourselves."

He criticized a Justice Department legal opinion issued early in the administration, and since rescinded, that allowed harsh interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects. "It was a mistake," he said. "It was unnecessary."

Mr. Mukasey distanced himself from the idea that presidential power during wartime makes it unnecessary to consult Congress, a position espoused by Vice President Dick Cheney and David S. Addington, Mr. Cheney's chief of staff and former legal counsel.

"I think it's been obvious from events of the last several years that everybody is better off - the president is better off, the Congress is better off, the country is better off - when everybody's rolling in the same direction," he said. "When the president acts pursuant to his authority with help from the Congress, with the tools that the Congress provides, then we don't have to get into butting heads over who can and who can't."

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