Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Good choice to lead Justice

The name and face of Michael Mukasey are unfamiliar to 19 of every 20 Americans, which may be his strongest recommendation to be attorney general of the United States. Mukasey, a former U. S. district judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan, may be the conservative ideologue that the president assumes him to be, but he is neither a Washington insider nor a confidant of the president.

Mukasey should be an independent arbiter of the law and a devotee of the Constitution, and that is what the nation ought to expect and what it has sorely missed. The relief was palpable when the White House let it be known over the weekend that the president would not choose another crony for the job but would turn to someone with a reputation for sticking to the law without favor.

Alberto Gonzales had changed the definition of attorney general. Most of his career had been spent in the political service of George W. Bush, and only the title changed when Bush moved him from presidential counselor to attorney general. When he turned the Justice Department into a Republican recruitment office and threw out district attorneys, including the prosecutor for the eastern district of Arkansas, because they had not advanced the partyís election goals, even Republicans in Congress had enough.

The presidentís first choice to replace Gonzales apparently was Theodore Olson, who if anything is a fiercer partisan than Gonzales. He had a central role in the infamous Arkansas Project, a shadowy effort of right-wingers led by the weird billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife to concoct smears against Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s. Senate Democrats made it clear that Olson would not be confirmed.

Whatever the presidentís motive, he deserves the nationís thanks for restoring independence to the Department of Justice. Mukasey said he would support federal prosecutors, not undermine them. That is good enough for us.