Gonzo Law

When President Bush delivered his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday night missing from the Capitol was U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Apparently, it was his turn to stay away from his fellow leaders just in case something catastrophic were to occur inside the chamber. And if that horrible something had come to pass, Alberto Gonzales would have been in charge of the country, at least temporarily, until the lines of succession could begin to flow again.

A scary thought, indeed, when you consider that Gonzales has achieved in just a few years what many legal scholars and court watchers had presumed impossible: he has made his predecessor, John Ashcroft, seem studious, grave and competent. Each week, it seems, our nation's top lawyer does or says something so unsettling, so inapt, so obviously unlawyerlike, that it leaves you wondering how he still is able to maintain his job even while so many others around him on Team Bush have dropped away.

Here is just one example. Last week, the Attorney General offered the Senate Judiciary Committee an interpretation of the Constitution that left lawyers and politicians around the country doing a collective "spit take." He told Sen. Arlen Spector (R-Pa.) that "the Constitution doesn't say that every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas" corpus. Habeas corpus is the right of individuals to rely upon the courts to challenge their detention or confinement at the hands of the government.

Sure, Gonzales said, the Constitution says that "habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless... in case of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it" but that didn't mean to him, the nation's lawyer, that the Constitution expressly grants the right of habeas. Here is how one newpaper described Sen. Spector's reponse: "Specter was incredulous, asking how the Constitution could bar the suspension of a right that didn't exist...." "'You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense," the Senator told Gonzales.

Now, we all might be able to dismiss Gonzales' position as the ravings of a lawyer who is in over his head. But Gonzales has a habit of saying things that are on the minds and memo pads (and secret government directives) of the true movers and shakers within the administration, the legal minds responsible for the White House's policy toward the Guantanamo Bay detainees, extraordinary rendition, enemy combatants, domestic surveillance and all the other extraordinary legal tactics that have arisen since the Twin Towers fell. If the Constitution does not contain a right to habeas corpus, you see, then the Congress can manipulate (read: further narrow) the statutory right to habeas corpus any which way it or the White House wants. If Gonzales is goofy the proposition he posits is dangerous.


By Andrew Cohen |  January 25, 2007; 10:30 AM ET agag
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George W Bush is the most terrifying person to have held the office of President of these States. No Habeas corpus, prosecuting attorneys who are answerable only to the President, detention with torture, no access to lawyers, let alone the courts. Was Nazi Germany or Soviet Communism the model? or both, or was it just patterned on 1984, the novel?

I am seriously considering joining up with the Militia who fear the black helicopters of the Government.

Who is it that will officially offer the crown to Caesar W?

Posted by: I don't dare name myself, they may come for me... | January 25, 2007 04:50 PM

If, in practice, habeas corpus is only suspended in cases involving (presumed) enemies of the state or threats to the American system of government, then I have no problem with Gonzalez's position. Furthermore, I will want it enforced with particular vigor when dealing with those who present the most dangerous and insidious threats to our governing system -- namely, anyone in a position of power who worked to circumvent the system of balances put in place specifically to protect the democracy, as well as anyone suspected of threatening the electoral process by committing voter fraud, voter intimidation or vote supression.

Mr. Gonzalez might want to be careful what he asks for...

"...and justice for ALL..."

Posted by: onlyhalfkidding | January 26, 2007 02:48 PM

Perhaps after Mr. Gonzales term as AG he might be held accountable for his legal counsel to the admi nsitration. After Mr. Gonzales can not remember how his parenst arrived in America; either legally or illegally.

Mr. Gonzales has selective memory loss when it comes to leagl issue efecting himself and his family, but not others and their families unles they are of the same ethnic background.

Posted by: Pat | January 26, 2007 04:57 PM

The Ninth Amendment of the Constitution states: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." I'm not a lawyer, but I read this to mean that just because a right-- in this case habeas corpus-- isn't expressly given in the Constitution doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. When I read this within the context of its companion piece "The Declaration of Independence" and the Humanistic concepts of "self-evident truths" and "inalienable rights" found in it, then realize that habeas corpus has been a part of English law since the 13th century and was specifically codified in 1679, I can't imagine how one could argue that the Framers envisioned the rights of habeas corpus as merely optional.

Posted by: Chris | January 26, 2007 05:33 PM

I am amazed that we are discussing this. The George W. Bush executive branch is criminal in inumerable aspects. Hello! War criminals to be specifc. Why are they still in government, practicing their war criminal actions? By the way, George W. Bush likes to torture people and he thinks "God" talks to him. If that isn't adequate evidence of criminal insanity, I don't know what is?

Posted by: bloomfld | January 26, 2007 07:25 PM

Bush gave himself White House Secrecy that he denied the rest of the American people by his domestic spying. Hundreds of thousands have died because of Bush in Iraq alone but if you took Iraq out of the picture and focused on covert White House activity conducted against the American people, the situation at home is far worse than Iraq. No, Americans don't blow up and make the news - but they do die.

Posted by: Bush Watch | January 26, 2007 07:59 PM

What I can't understand is why Congress lets the administration get away with this. Every chance they get, they try to frame their argument in the context of a war or whatever excuse they can find to expand excutive powers at the expense of the others. And just like the Nixon administration, there are plenty of people willing to do what they think the President wants, or is it the VP?

Posted by: Wayne | January 27, 2007 08:35 AM

Can't he be disbarred for this kind of thing? or at least something else he's done? Isn't part of the Bar Association's job to make sure that people who don't know the law can't be lawyers?

Posted by: slandry | January 27, 2007 02:29 PM

The Senate's and public's expectations to the contrary, Mr. Gonzales was not hired as a lawyer. He is simply delivering Mr. Cheney's messages about what he thinks the law is as it applies to him. Richard III? Henry Tudor? Better analogies for Mr. Cheney's assault on American law and politics?

The administration's real lawyers seem to be on the "internal" White House staff, attacking others, defending it, putting out PR. Those who don't make the grade are being sent around the country as permanent temporary US Attorneys. Like Karl Rove*s former sidekick, Mr. Griffin, who was sent to Arkansas.

Explain how ten years as a researcher for Republican efforts to ferret out embarrassing data on Democrats is adequate preparation to be the top enforcer of US civil and criminal laws in a federal judicial district? Mr. Griffin's legal experience in the JAG Corps might have earned him an interview as an assistant USA. But the top job?

This is not an administration that wants more Patrick Fitzgeralds gumming up their 2008 election prospects, which already have necrosis setting in. Nor is it an administration that wants Americans to know what their legal rights are, much less enforce them. Hopefully, the Libby case will be the opening of Pandora's box for Mr. Cheney's vision.

Posted by: mbbsdphil | January 27, 2007 11:32 PM

Our President uses Signing Staements to cancel parts of laws he does not like after they have been passed by Congress. What part of the Constitution gave him that power. He can veto them but is not allowed to change them.

Why would such a man or his appointees worry about the right of habeas corpus?

Lets face it, we have a President who has assumed powers he was never granted by our laws and then even managed to abuse thos powers.

Our Prez must think his right is the old Devine Right of Kings to do as he wishes because he is chosen by God!

Posted by: Ronald Penland | January 28, 2007 01:19 PM

Considering the amount of money that has come up missing in this administration it might be interesting to "follow the money trail" of some of these people in the administration to see if it could be found. Perhaps this is why Gonzales and others are so willing to send our country down the tubes.

Posted by: mere | January 29, 2007 09:40 AM

Perhaps after Mr. Gonzales term as AG he might be held accountable for his legal counsel to the admi nsitration. After Mr. Gonzales can not remember how his parenst arrived in America; either legally or illegally.

Mr. Gonzales has selective memory loss when it comes to leagl issue efecting himself and his family, but not others and their families unles they are of the same ethnic background.

Posted by: Pat | January 26, 2007 04:57 PM

In order to get the Top Secret plus clearance Mr. Gonzales has in order to be AG you have to fill out a mountain of paperwork AND be truthful. The background check the feds do is (or used to be) extremely intense and lying was a disqualification.

The FBI knows the entire Gonzales family tree. Maybe someone there can refresh his memory. Maybe as he is under oath, at his own trial.

Dreams do come true...you just have to pray hard enough...right GW?

Posted by: Robin Boerner | January 29, 2007 07:54 PM

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