More committed to protecting his political friends than upholding the rule of law, Alberto Gonzales' tenure as U.S. attorney general has been characterized by his tendency to be a political "yes man" and a manipulator of the law.
Rather than advising the president on the limits of his power, Gonzales has time and again provided President Bush with blueprints for how to expand those powers and circumvent the law. Whether the issue before him concerned due-process rights for alleged enemy combatants, torture of foreign detainees, warrant-less surveillance of Americans, or expanding the powers of the executive branch, in each instance Gonzales used political patronage as his yardstick rather than the Constitution.
No matter how one feels about the president or his politics, there is no disputing the fact that Alberto Gonzales has finally done the right thing by resigning. Now it's time for President George W. Bush and Congress to do the right thing for the country.
Our next attorney general will clearly have his work cut out for him if trust, integrity, and an adherence to the rule of law are to be restored to the Department of Justice. Thus, it is imperative that we select the right man - or woman - for the job.
This is no time for cronyism. And we certainly don't need any more Bush loyalists. Beltway buzz has already suggested Michael Chertoff, the current secretary of Homeland Security, as a possible replacement for Gonzales, among others. But another Bush insider is not what we need right now.
An uncompromising determination to put the rule of law before politics is a necessary ingredient for any good attorney general. As head of the Department of Justice, the attorney general - the chief law-enforcement officer of the United States - is charged with making sure that the rule of law prevails over government corruption. This holds true even when justice requires the attorney general, an unelected government official, to bring to account political allies and personal friends.
Called the "people's lawyer," the attorney general also has the weighty responsibility of advising the president on the limits of his power, fighting for civil liberties and the Constitution, and evenhandedly enforcing the laws of the nation - even if that means going after the president and other powerful government figures when they break the law.
When John F. Kennedy appointed his 36-year-old brother Bobby to be attorney general, there were many with grave reservations about such blatant nepotism. Yet we got lucky. Bobby Kennedy's commitment to fighting crime transcended politics and his family's desire for power. As Fox TV's Bill O'Reilly has pointed out, Kennedy's courage and fortitude brought down teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa, protected the rights of blacks in the South, and stamped out corrupt state law-enforcement officials nationwide. Furthermore, O'Reilly notes, "RFK attacked organized crime over the objection of his own father, Joseph Kennedy, who thought it would be bad politically because the mob-dominated unions in New York and Illinois had backed JFK. Kennedy ignored his father and ruthlessly prosecuted the mob despite the fact that FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover offered little cooperation."
The challenges faced by our next attorney general will be no less demanding, especially in this post-9/11 America in which we live. Thus, it is critical that whoever is at the helm of the Justice Department have the moral fortitude and courage to blindly pursue justice and uphold the rule of law.
Presidents have a tendency to surround themselves with people committed to protecting the powers of the president and his party, rather than the constitutional rights of the people. Yet the attorney general must be removed from such politicking.
If we want the attorney general to be the "people's lawyer" - and not merely a "yes man" for the president - then we should give serious consideration to amending Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which gives the president the power to make such overtly political appointments. Why not mandate that an independent bipartisan congressional committee nominate the attorney general, who must then be confirmed by the Senate?
Otherwise, if the attorney-general position remains a political appointment decided by the president, we shall see history repeat itself, with yet another political ally kowtowing to the president and circumventing the Constitution.
If the rule of law is to mean anything in America, this charade must end.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of the Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at (email@example.com). Information about the Rutherford Institute is available at (http://www.rutherford.org).