A better system for picking US Attorneys

If "Attorneygate" has taught us anything, it is that politics corrupts. Yet, even in the midst of this realisation, there is something else that we should learn - that the system of appointing and maintaining US Attorneys is wide open to corruption. While we may rightly criticise Republican partisans for their law-breaking arrogance on this issue, we must also make steps to ensure that no party - including the Democrats - may take advantage of the broken system currently in place.

When it comes to matters of law and justice, all of us - right and left wing, partisans and swingers, politically astute and politically ignorant - want all judges, attorneys and other judicial officials to be completely and utterly fair, objective, unbiased and professional in their approach. The system currently in place does not allow for this.

As I searched through the "DOJ document dump", looking for clues about the dismissal of the eight attorneys, I realised that the entire political system had so corrupted the appointment of USAs that, to be honest, it was only a matter of time before such mass firings would have occurred.

To ensure that this does not occur again, the entire process of hiring, firing and maintaining US Attorneys needs to be apoliticised. In order for this to occur, 28. USC needs to be overhauled.

The first thing to happen is to ensure that the President has no say whatsoever in the selection of these attorneys. The current system makes it clear that the President appoints US Attorneys - that should be changed. Rather than the President appointing them, US attorneys should be selected by a bipartisan senate committee that exists for this sole purpose. Once a US attorney is approved by this committee, they will need to be confirmed by a supermajority in the senate (two thirds) without any input from the president at all.

US Attorneys will serve out a four-year term, and may be reappointed for any subsequent terms by the senate.

In addition to the appointment of US Attorneys, the Senate will also appoint two assistant attorneys to work with and assist each of these Attorneys. If the US Attorney should die, or be removed from office for any reason, then he or she will be replaced by one of the assistants, who have been nominated in terms of succession. The replacement US attorney will then serve out the remainder of the term of office.

When it comes to the removal of any Attorney, the following rules should apply.

A US attorney may be instantly dismissed by the Department of Justice if found guilty of any criminal behaviour, or actions which bring the DOJ or the US Attorney's office into disrepute. A US attorney may be removed for any reason with the approval of a senate supermajority. The president will have no say in the removal of US Attorneys.

Of course, all of this is controversial. After all, the Department of Justice is part of the executive branch of government which seems to indicate that the president should appoint them. Not so fast. Just because the president runs the DOJ doesn't mean that it is insulated from the rest of government. Moreover, I am not suggesting that the President be stripped of his power to appoint the Attorney General or other top people within the DOJ.

The issue is, of course, that the President should obviously have the power to appoint his own cabinet. But USAs are not sitting in with the President every few days or so. They are working in their sector of America to ensure that federal law is followed. They are on the ground in the cities and towns of America. Given that this is the case, there really should be no reason why the President should have anything to do with hiring them.

Having USAs appointed or removed by a senate supermajority is essentially the equivalent of the upper house's power to override a presidential veto, or to impeach and remove the president. So, in a sense, the president's choice is being made by two thirds of the senate. The two are equivalent in power.

Moreover, having a supermajority means that the USAs appointed need to be acceptable to the centre political position. They can be neither too Democrat or too Republican, and any "paper trails" they have left behind can be examined to make sure they are acceptable to a 2-1 majority. Partisanship and even a hint of corruption may rule out a potential candidate. Therefore the people put up for selection need to have exemplary backgrounds in order to qualify.

It also means that US Attorneys can be selected and appointed over a longer period of time. Instead of the Senate rushing to confirm 93 people they have little information about within a few months of each other, it allows for overlapping terms between each USA appointment. For example, in January, the Senate may confirm and appoint six US Attorneys who start their term the following quarter, in April. Then in April, the Senate may confirm another six US Attorneys who start their term in July. This goes on every quarter for four years and then goes around again, ensuring that 93 USAs are appointed over a four year period.

What will this mean in practical terms?

1. US Attorneys will be picked in a bipartisan manner according to their skills and abilities.
2. The President's role in managing the Department of Justice will be diminished, but the ability of the DOJ to do its job properly will be enhanced.
3. In order for any entrenched corruption to succeed in appointing political US Attorneys or firing any without due cause, two-thirds of the senate must be in cahoots, which is a very unlikely scenario.

From the One Salient Overlord Department

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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