September 15, 2007
Who's Minding the Department of Justice?
Bob Denver fans may recall his role in Who's Minding the Mint, a 1967 movie with a terrific cast that included Milton Berle and Joey Bishop, two of the finest borscht belt comedians. The current state of the Department of Justice raises a similar question about who, if anyone, is in charge, although it is not quite as comic. Alberto Gonzales, the eightieth Attorney General, left office on September 14 with a low-key farewell ceremony (Washington Post article here). If you look at the Department's organizational chart (here), there is a decided absence throughout the upper level positions of individuals who have been confirmed by the Senate. Along with the Attorney General position, which Solicitor General Paul Clement will fill on a temporary basis, the Deputy AG and Associate AG offices both have acting occupants in them, while the Assistant AGs for the Civil Rights and Civil Divisions have recently announced their resignations. No successsors have been nominated, and the next AG is likely to have a role in picking new people for the positions, so nothing will happen on that front until the top job is filled. Out in the field offices, a quarter of the U.S. Attorneys do not have permanent appointments, including all seven districts in which the U.S. Attorneys were fired on December 7, 2006, purportedly to make way for new faces -- none of whom seem to have appeared quite yet.
The end of a second-term President's administration always sees a heavy movement toward the exits, but the Department of Justice has usually avoided such large-scale turnover. That may be because its senior positions can be so beneficial to one's career, and the switch to private firms is often not a very drawn out process, so there's no great need to time the jump to the private sector. The current vacuum at the top is striking, however, and to this point the White House has not even nominated a successor to Gonzales. The leadership void will continue for at least a while because the confirmation hearings for the eighty-first Attorney General will, in all likelihood, not be a pro forma exercise, unless the nominee is a true consensus candidate -- and that's not something I would bet on. (ph)
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