Sunday, February 11, 2007
Why Did the Bush Administration Pass Over Michael McConnell?
There is a strikingly odd passage in Jan Crawford Greenberg's new book on the Supreme Court, Supreme Conflict. In writing about the White House's decisionmaking with respect to the nomination for Justice O'Connor's replacement (before the Chief Justice had died), Greenberg reports (page 199) that Deputy Counsel to the President William Kelley, a Notre Dame professor,
The failure to nominate McConnell is only a mystery if you take Bush's pledge to nominate clones of Thomas and Scalia seriously. Take a look at who he first tried to nominate to the Court, before his own party rebelled: Meyers.
Bush never had any intention of putting genuine conservatives on the Court. That, not McConnall's opinion in a minor case, was what kept him off the court, along with all the other obvious choices.
I too found this passage spectacularly bizarre. Marty's theory is intriguing, but I'm skeptical. I had thought the obvious reason for the Administration to pass over McConnell was his too-public record on abortion and religion. Though more of a thinking man's conservative than Alito, McConnell had things in his record as an academic that would have made for an especially bitter confirmation fight.
You said, "I have previously written in this space that I think future prosecution for torture and other crimes is virtually inconceivable with respect to officials who relied on OLC legal advice, largely because of such a due process defense of reasonable reliance upon counsel."
I am actually more interested in something you said in that prior post: "We should encourage Executive branch officials and employees to seek the legal advice of the AG (and OLC), and to rely on such advice. If the advice is wrong, disingenuous, or offered for improper purposes (e.g., to provide legal cover for conduct of dubious legality), the DOJ officials should be called to account ... ."
By what mechanism is it legally feasible to call such lawyers to account?
Even if we believe some DOJ lawyers acted in bad faith -- and I tend to think so -- what can anyone do about it? It is situation where the law and lawyers have massively failed, and disgraced the tradition of public-service lawyering.
If anything, I fear, the torture and illegal eavedropping matters illustrate a certain futility in trying to regulate executive officials by means of criminal statutes such as FISA and the War Crimes Act. (In the torture situtation, Congress seems to have retroactively decriminalized much of what was done, anyway.)
When a president and his senior officials are the primary bad actors, work in secret and in bad faith, and avoid judicial review, they have the expedient means of frustrating justice by having their consigliere write a few memos. Then they run can out the clock.
Congressional oversight, even if successful, can accomplish little more than disclosure unless the political will exists for impeachment. There obviously will be no special counsel during the next two years. Assume the next administration's attorney general reads the files after taking over and thinks they stink. What next?
"I have previously written in this space that I think future prosecution for torture and other crimes is virtually inconceivable with respect to officials who relied on OLC legal advice, largely because of such a due process defense of reasonable reliance upon counsel."
With respect Marty, I continue to believe that you are wrong about this, and that your position begs a question:
Just exactly what is or isn't 'reasonable'?
Is it reasonable to propose that the President has the power of a Roman Imprator to decree life and death at whim with out the least regard for any law?
I think not: such a notion is contrary to the very idea of a Constitutional Republic, and utterly subversive of the rule of law -- the creed of gangster.
It is absolutely imperative that the criminals of the Bush administration to be prosecuted, convicted, and punished for their crimes. They have made a direct and systematic attempt to subvert rule of law, and the law MUST be defended.
And I really think this issue needs to be raised with the Congress and the Presidential candidates right now.
I'm not sure what the rule is under federal law, but under CA law advice of counsel is NOT a defense to a general intent crime but can be used to negate specific intent.
Here's the basic principle for general intent crimes:
"The defense of action taken in good faith, in reliance upon the advice of a reputable attorney that it was lawful, has long been rejected. The theory is that this would place the advice of counsel above the law, and would also place a premium on counsel's ignorance or indifference to the law." Witkin & Epstein, California Criminal Law, 2d Ed., Defenses, Sec. 220, p. 254. Accord, People v. Flora, 228 Cal. App. 3d 662, 670, 279 Cal. Rptr. 17, 21 (1991); People v. Vineberg, 125 Cal. App. 3d 127, 137, 177 Cal. Rptr. 819, 824 (1981).
On the assumption that Greenburg's anecdote has any truth to it, your theory is very interesting.
Alternatively, Bush might have felt compelled by the vicious nature of the nomination process to nominate people (as he did) who had less of a paper trail on controversial issues, such as calling for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.
Some conservatives were concerned about Judge McConnell's position on gay marriage in light of some of his postings on the internet as a law professor. I suspect, but do not know, that this issue was the reason he did not emerge as the Administration's choice.
" ... and given the Supreme Court's admonishment that 'a reasonably competent public official should know the law governing his conduct,' Harlow, 457 U.S. at 819 ...." is at page 4 of the decision in Lawrence.
I wonder how many public officials are aware of this admonishment? I guess it depends upon how many of them are "reasonably competent". For example, in George W's Administration ....
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