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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Will Obama Build a Justice Department on Rock or Sand?

The 100th day of Barack Obama's presidency passed the other day, and much has been written on the subject, most of it laudatory.

A passage that resonates here at Legal Schnauzer came from Joe Klein's article, "The Rock Builder," at Time magazine. Klein praised Obama for his determination to get America's financial house in order by building on a firm foundation.

That raised this question: Will Obama use the same concept to get America's justice house in order?

Klein noted Obama's effective use of a parable from the New Testament to explain his approach to lifting America out of a financial crisis. The parable, from Luke 6:48, sends an important message at the outset of the Obama presidency. The president drew on the parable in an April 14 speech at Georgetown University, and Klein writes:


In prose that was spare and clear and compelling, the President proceeded to describe how his Administration had responded to the financial crisis, the overriding challenge of his first 100 days in office. He had covered this ground before, nearly as well, in his budget message to Congress. But now Obama went further, using a parable from the Sermon on the Mount — the need for a house built on rock rather than on sand — to describe a future that was nothing less than an overhaul of the nature of American capitalism. "It is simply not sustainable," he said, "to have an economy where, in one year, 40% of our corporate profits came from a financial sector that was based on inflated home prices, maxed-out credit cards, overleveraged banks and overvalued assets."

Obama is correct to say that America must move its financial house off shaky ground and rebuild on solid principles. But has the president taken a look at our justice system in the first 100 days?

Justice in America, during the eight years of George W. Bush's rule, featured unscrupulous prosecutors, crooked federal judges, corrupt state courts, inept oversight agencies, and a betrayed citizenry. Some of those citizens (see Siegelman, Don and Minor, Paul, among others) actually were imprisoned for political reasons, as if they lived in Josef Stalin's Russia. Others were cheated out of their jobs and faced other forms of economic terrorism (see Schnauzer, Legal).

Obama clearly has stated that America's financial house was built on sand. But if he takes a close look, he will find that America's justice house was built on sewage--heaping mounds of nasty, disgusting, stomach churning, foul smelling sewage.

What is Obama's plan for fixing the problem. He hasn't made that clear, but it seems to be to "look forward, not backward." That apparently means that Obama will attempt to rebuild our justice house on the same shaky, stinking foundation where it already is rotting.

Obama has hired Eric Holder as the architect for our new justice house. And together, they apparently plan to throw a few layers of dirt over the sewage and put the house on top of that.

What is likely to happen? In a few years--five, 15, 25--sewage will start seeping up through the flooring, and America again will have a nasty mess on its hands.

It's encouraging to hear Obama borrowing from high-minded sources as he tries to explain the path out of America's current predicament. The Sermon on the Mount contains some of the most profound words ever written, and that's a good place to start. But perhaps Obama needs to reread Luke 6:48 and ponder how it might apply to a strong and renewed American justice system.

How do you build a justice house on rock and not sand (or sewage)? You start by conducting a thorough investigation of wrongdoing in the Bush Justice Department. You pursue vigorous prosecutions against any officials who appear to have committed crimes in the pursuit of "justice." You lay out for the American people exactly how their justice system has been compromised. You show how the corruption goes beyond the federal level to the state and local level. And you present a plan for effective oversight--of judges, prosecutors, lawyers, the works--so that the mass of sewage will not gradually build again.

Obama also might want to read a splendid new piece by Robert Parry at Consortium News. Our dysfunctional government, in recent years, has featured what Parry calls the Democrats' "Battered Wife Syndrome":

In recent years, the Washington political dynamic has often resembled an abusive marriage, in which the bullying husband (the Republicans) slaps the wife and kids around, and the battered wife (the Democrats) makes excuses and hides the ugly bruises from outsiders to keep the family together.

It's time Democrats quit letting themselves, and America's ideals, be bullied. Bill Clinton is the most recent Democratic president who tried to paper over Republican wrongdoing by throwing a few layers of dirt on it. It didn't work for Clinton, and it won't work for Obama.

So what will it be, Mr. President? Rock or sand?

Do Americans deserve a justice system that is build on a firm foundation?

1 comment:

Nancy Ortiz said...

Short answer. Yes. Long question is the same since the Alien and Sedition Acts. How?