Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The rule of law

The rule of law has been taking it in the shorts lately. The firings of the US attorneys and the reasons for doing it are the subject of intense scrutiny by the media, the blogs, and by congressional committees. There is an article in the Strib today about efforts by Keith Ellison to get to the bottom of why Tom Heffelfinger left the USA job in Minnesota and why Rachel Paulose was anointed appointed as his replacement:

In a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Ellison, D-Minn., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers also asked for any documents relating to the appointment of current U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose and to the management and morale in her office.

The letter is the first public effort by the committee to get documents specific to Minnesota during its investigation into the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year. It cited news reports about the possibility that U.S. attorneys were appointed for their loyalty to President Bush and about alleged efforts to restrict voter turnout.

There are also reports that Rachel's pal Monica Goodling was involved in making hiring decisions of Justice employees based on political considerations:

Congress and the Justice Department's internal watchdog agency are also looking into allegations that Monica Goodling, a former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, sought out fellow Republicans for Justice Department jobs. Goodling resigned over the U.S. attorneys flap and invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than answer questions from Congress. (Full story)

Spot figured out that it was about time to trot out his favorite defense of the rule of law. It comes from the based-on-a-true-story play, A Man For All Seasons. The playwright Robert Bolt puts words in Thomas More's mouth that still make Spot shiver:

Roper: [speaking about Richard Rich, who has just left and is suspected of being a spy against More] Arrest him. [Roper is a suitor for More's daughter Margaret]

Alice: Yes! [More's wife]

More: For what? [More is at this point Chancellor of England]

Alice: He's dangerous!

Roper: For libel; he's a spy.

Alice: He is! Arrest him!

Margaret: Father, that man's bad.

More: There is no law against that.

Roper: There is! God's law!

More: Then God can arrest him.

Roper: Sophistication upon sophistication.

More: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal.

Roper: Then you set man's law above God's!

More: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact - I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God....
[he says this last to himself]

Alice: While you talk, he's gone!

More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

"The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate." Would that someone would have said that to the claque of sycophants in the Justice Department, or who would say it to Katie or Michele Bachmann or James Dobson, or to any of the legions poisoned with moral certitude.

Update: identified the characters

Further update: expanded the section excerpted

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