Saturday, November 13, 2004

Ashcroft’s Parting Shot

From Salon.com:

Federal judges are jeopardizing national security by issuing rulings contradictory to President Bush’s decisions on America’s obligations under international treaties and agreements, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Friday.

In his first remarks since his resignation was announced Tuesday, Ashcroft forcefully denounced what he called “a profoundly disturbing trend” among some judges to interfere in the president’s constitutional authority to make decisions during war.

“The danger I see here is that intrusive judicial oversight and second-guessing of presidential determinations in these critical areas can put at risk the very security of our nation in a time of war,” Ashcroft said in a speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers’ group.

The Justice Department announced this week it would seek to overturn a ruling by U.S. District Judge James Robertson in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who the government contends was Osama bin Laden’s driver.

Robertson halted Hamdan’s trial by military commission in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rejecting the Bush administration’s position that the Geneva Conventions governing prisoners of war do not apply to al-Qaida members because they are not soldiers of a true state and do not fight by international norms.

Without mentioning that case specifically, Ashcroft criticized rulings he said found “expansive private rights in treaties where they never existed” that run counter to the broad discretionary powers given the president by the Constitution.

“Courts are not equipped to execute the law. They are not accountable to the people,” Ashcroft said.

The nerve of those judges! Actually placing the Constitution of ahead of the wishes of our Dear Leader!

I defer to those of you out there who have actually studied the law, but my understanding is that one of the basic functions of courts is to execute the law – certainly the aforementioned Mr. Peterson would say so. And to hold that the courts “are not accountable to the people” is, to say the least, a twisting of both facts and logic. In many states and municiplaities, judges and justices are elected. It is at the federal level where the judges are appointed for life, and there’s a reason for that – so they won’t be held hostage by politicians, and the only thing they are accountable to is the law. That they may interpret it in a way we may disagree with is the risk we take, but for the most part, it seems to work. Certainly Mr. Ashcroft didn’t argue with the Supreme Court executing the law in the case of Bush v. Gore.

It’s ironic that Mr. Ashcroft would make such a comment on the 48th anniversary of this court ruling:

An Alabama law and a city ordinance requiring segregation of races on intrastate buses were declared invalid by the Supreme Court today.

The Court affirmed a ruling by a three-judge Federal court that held the challenged statutes “violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law nor deny to any citizen the equal protection of the laws.

In upholding the lower court’s judgment, the Supreme Court cited its 1954 decision outlawing racial discrimination in public parks and on public golf courses.

[Officials of several Southern states indicated they would continue to enforce bus segregation laws despite the court’s decision. Segregationist leaders were bitter in their denunciations of the court and its ruling.]

Unfortunately, Mr. Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzales, seems to have the same view of the Constitution and treaties, referring to the Geneva Convention’s rules on the treatment of prisoners of war and providing for their basic human rights as “quaint.” It is not over.