Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reforming the Department of Justice

Two bi-partisan organizations are calling on the Department of Justice to renew its dedication to the fair administration of justice without the taint of any political considerations affecting its prosecutorial decisions, hiring, and legislative efforts.  The Constitution Project recently issued a draft document outlining "Principles for Assuring Legitimacy to the Crucial Decisions of the Department of Justice" (available below).  The Principles are being circulated for review, so the version available here is not the final form, and anyone interested in signing on to the Principles should contact Corey Owens, the Communications Director for The Constitution Project, at cowens@constitutionproject.org.

Under the heading "Prosecution" The Constitution Project offers the following five principles to address issues that have arisen in the past year regarding the politicization of the Department of Justice:

  1. Prosecutions should never be based on partisan considerations.  Decisions to prosecute should be based solely on the facts and the law.  Politics should play no part in determining either whether to bring the case or the timing for bringing the case.
  2. Prosecutors should have no communications with Members of Congress or congressional staff relating to whether a criminal case will be brought or the timing of such case.  Any such attempted communications should be reported to appropriate officials at the Department.
  3. It is never appropriate for the President or a member of the White House staff to direct, urge, or suggest that a Federal prosecutor bring a specific prosecution or seek a particular sentence or terminate an investigation or case.
  4. Elected officials and their staffs may furnish pertinent information or views to the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, or the Associate Attorney General for his or her consideration and such disposition as he or she believes appropriate.  Any such information should be memorialized regarding what was said and what was done with the information.
  5. It is appropriate for the President or the Attorney General to direct, or for a member or committee of Congress to recommend, that special attention or resources be devoted to a particular category of cases as a matter of policy and federal priority.

In a similar vein, the National Association of Former United States Attorneys (NAFUSA) adopted a resolution (available below) after its recent annual meeting that offers certain "rules of conduct which are written to promote the essential independence of United States Attorneys in their districts."  Among the rules is one that states, "A United States Attorney should never be asked to resign or be terminated from his or her position because a Senator or Representative has complained to the Department of Justice or White House regarding the U.S. Attorney's decisions regarding indictments or prosecutions."  It's a little hard to believe that this rule would even be necessary, but the firing of eight U.S. Attorney's in 2006 changed all that. (ph)

Download constitution_project_principles_for_assuring_legitimacy_nov_2007.pdf

Download nafusa_resolution_nov_2007.pdf

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