Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy

Reflections on Events and Changes at the Department of Justice

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy

Reflections on Events and Changes at the Department of Justice

Article excerpt

Few have had the profound privilege to serve their country as I have during my career of public service. It has been an even higher honor to serve in a time of national crisis. Such was my tenure as the eightieth Attorney General of the United States.

The privilege of serving as Missouri's State Auditor, Attorney General Governor, and Senator had been mine. I expected the end of my Senate career to mark the end of my career in public service. But when President George W. Bush asked me to continue my service to the nation as the United States Attorney General I welcomed the opportunity to lead the only agency in government with a value as its title. "Justice" to me is a peerless value--a dedication to securing the rights and freedoms of America and each of its citizens.

Little did I know that during my time as Attorney General, we would experience the most devastating terrorist attack ever on American soil, and our country would be plunged into a war unlike any before. The war on terrorism became the overriding focus of the Department of Justice and my mission as Attorney General became clear: to transform a peacetime Justice Department ill-prepared for the challenges of 9/11, into a wartime Justice Department focused on the defense of life and liberty by ushering in a new culture of prevention. And despite these unprecedented challenges, I remained committed to protecting our constitutional liberties.

After being nominated by the President to serve as Attorney General, I did not have the luxury of being able to focus fully on preparing for the job. It became clear that the President's recently-defeated political opponents, along with their liberal allies such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the People for the American Way, and the National Organization for Women, were preparing to oppose my confirmation with all their might.

A brutal confirmation process followed, with an all-out assault only previously seen during the confirmation battles of Judge Robert Bork and then-Judge Clarence Thomas. In many ways my confirmation became a proxy fight over the political divisions of the day. Ultimately, the Senate approved my nomination on February 1, 2001, on a 58-42 vote. With the confirmation battle over, I was eager to focus on the job at hand. I knew there was much work to be done at the Justice Department, and particularly at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In studying the tenure of my predecessor, Janet Reno, it became clear an Attorney General could easily be distracted from a planned agenda by the crises at hand. Attorney General Reno's term was best known for things on which I am sure she did not plan to focus. The shooting at Ruby Ridge, the disaster involving the Branch Davidian Compound at Waco, the deportation of Elian Gonzales, investigations of Clinton scandals-these were the issues with which the public identified the Justice Department.

We began our Administration with a clear goal to focus the Justice Department back on its mission:

   [T]o enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States
   according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats
   foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing
   and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of
   unlawful behavior; to administer and enforce the Nation's
   immigration laws fairly and effectively; and to ensure fair and
   impartial administration of justice for all Americans. (1)

The Department of Justice is a massive bureaucracy with roughly 110,000 employees spread out over thirty-nine separate component organizations. We entered the Department focused on a series of strategic goals including protecting America against the threat of terrorism, enforcing federal criminal laws, preventing and reducing crime--violent and gun crime in particular--and protecting the liberties and interests of the American people. …

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