Our reporting on justice issues in Alabama and beyond has drawn the attention of national Web sites in recent days.
New York-based Above the Law (ATL), which might be the nation's most widely read legal Web site, yesterday highlighted our post on Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. and the $25-million federal lawsuit pending against him. An item on the Vance case was included in ATL's "Non Sequitirs," a daily roundup of unusual legal news.
The day before, the Philadelphia-based progressive Web site OpEd News (OEN) included an interview with yours truly about President Obama's reaction to the IRS scandal. Joan Brunwasser, who I consider one of the finest interviewers in the progressive blogosphere, focused on Obama's outrage over the IRS's targeting of conservative groups compared to his apparent unconcern about Justice Department abuses, such as the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Brunwasser's piece is titled "Obama A Big Hypocrite? Ask Legal Schnauzer, Roger Shuler."
Today, Debra J. Saunders, of the San Francisco Chronicle, cites our work while examining Eric Holder's sorry performance in a piece at sfgate.com. The Saunders piece is titled "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Attorney General."
Our blog has enjoyed a substantial national (even international) audience for several years, but it is particularly gratifying to have fellow journalists take note of our work--and the role that activities in Alabama play on the big legal stage.
Above the Law is the brainchild of Yale law graduate David Lat, who has found a sizable audience for his site's snarky, gossipy, insider take on the world of law. Here is ATL's take on the Vance lawsuit:
Alabama judge faces $25 million lawsuit alleging he improperly took a case from another judge and issued damaging rulings. This is the judge who ran against Chief Justice Roy “Don’t Remove the Ten Commandments From the Courthouse” Moore. The moral of the story is: don’t use the Alabama judicial system. [Legal Schnauzer]
Unfortunately, for those of us who live in "The Heart of Dixie," the Alabama legal system is the only one we have.
At OpEd News, Brunwasser and I take a big-picture view at Obama's response to the notion that government agencies target certain individuals and groups for political reasons. Brunwasser asked what bothered me about Obama's reaction to the IRS scandal, and here is part of my response:
In early January 2009, just a few days before he took office, President-Elect Obama said he intended to "look forward, as opposed to looking backwards" on apparent crimes under the Bush administration. As president, Obama seems to have followed through on that pledge because his Justice Department has failed to review political prosecutions such as the one involving former Governor Don Siegelman in Alabama, where I live.
Political prosecutions, of course, were just of one of many improper acts on the justice front during the Bush years--torture, warrantless wiretapping, firings of U.S. attorneys were among the others. In essence, Obama issued a decree that no one would be held accountable for those acts.
Obama's "look forward" statement made no sense at the time, and it makes even less sense now, coming after he expressed outrage the other day over disclosures about the IRS targeting conservative groups for political reasons. Obama said in a news conference that he would not "tolerate" such actions, that wrongdoers must be held "accountable," and the problem must be "fixed."
But his inaction toward the DOJ shows that he will tolerate the targeting of political opponents, that he will not hold individuals accountable for such actions, and he will not take steps to fix the problem. Obama was uttering empty words at his press conference about the IRS. Many of us expect that from a Republican chief executive; we should demand better from a Democrat.
Are there signs of hope for those who want the Obama administration to address DOJ abuses? I struggled to find any:
I don't believe progress will be made until the Obama DOJ grows a spine and initiates an investigation of the Siegelman case and other Bush-era political prosecutions. Pardoning Don Siegelman would be a positive step. But we cannot allow such manipulation of our justice apparatus to remain unaddressed. If Obama leaves office with these issues still hanging, he has been a failure, in my view.
Also, this could wind up at Obama's doorstep someday. He has appointed any number of large donors to ambassadorships and such. Once he's out of office, a Republican DOJ could claim that appointments involved "inferred quid pro quos," and Obama and those donors could be at huge risk. The president ignores this issue at his own peril.
More importantly, it imperils the Democrat Party. Are candidates and donors going to get involved if they know they might wind up in federal prison for engaging in standard political behavior? The Siegelman case already has had a chilling effect here in Alabama. Many statewide offices no longer attract a serious Democratic candidate. If political prosecutions are allowed to stand, look for that trend to spread to other states.
Meanwhile, Debra J. Saunders calls Eric Holder "President Obama's worst appointment"--and we certainly agree with that assessment. From the Saunders piece:
Attorney General Eric Holder is President Obama’s worst appointment. Holder started out with baggage — the Clinton pardons of Marc Rich and unrepentant Puerto Rican terrorists. With the media leak investigations, he is carrying more baggage. And Holder’s load is likely to become heavier.
Nonetheless, the president told reporters last week, Holder has Obama's full support.
Debra J. Saunders
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., questioned Holder about the pardon process as he urged the AG to consider pardoning former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Roger Shuler of the Legal Schnauzer blog reports on the issue here. There’s some political risk in pushing for a pardon for a fellow politician, but Cohen has bipartisan cover. And the exchange shows the pressure that will be brought to bear on the president as he is about to leave office.
Will Obama decide he wants to commute and pardon politically-connected offenders? Or will he continue to use this presidential power sparingly?
Saunders explores those issues in a piece titled "Obama Is Stingy With His Pardons." It's important reading for all of us who have closely followed the Don Siegelman saga.