Saturday, April 07, 2007

Is the Justice Department becoming the Christian Justice Department?

Monica Goodling, senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonozales, resigned yesterday. She is the latest victim of the U.S. Attorney Purgegate and an increasingly dysfunctional U.S. Department of Justice. In anticipation of being called for testimony before Congress, she has taken the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination in advance of being asked any questions. As they say, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Obviously, there is more going on here than the dismissal of political appointees who “serve at the pleasure” of the President (as if the President of the United States is a monarch and U.S. Attorneys’ primary obligation is obedience to that President rather than upholding the law).

There is more that will play out with Purgegate over the next month or so. One interesting tidbit about Ms. Goodling is that she is a graduate of Regent University, the Virginia Beach Christian law school founded by Pat Robertson in 1978. The school boasts of having 150 graduates serving throughout the Bush administration. (Other notable graduates include Virginia’s current Attorney General, Bob McDonnell.)

The agenda of Pat Robertson and his fellow-travelers is to produce graduates who will find themselves in positions of power in order to assert Christian political authority. There is nothing wrong with that per se as long as the public is made aware and approves of this displacement of professionalism in the Justice Department -- built up after decades under both Democratic and Republican administrations – for those with a religious agenda. This process did not start under Gonozales but his predecessor, John Ashcroft who now teaches at Regent.

Dahlia Lithwick has this assessment of the Regent influence in Slate:
Monica Goodling has a problem. As senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Justice Department liaison to the White House, Goodling no longer seems to know what the truth is. She must also be increasingly unclear about who her superiors are. This didn't used to be a problem for Goodling, now on indefinite leave from the DoJ. Everything was once very certain: Her boss's truth was always the same as God's truth. Her boss was always either God or one of His staffers.

This week, through counsel, Goodling again refused to testify about her role in the firings of several U.S. attorneys for what appear to be partisan reasons. Asserting her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, Goodling somehow felt she may be on the hook for criminal obstruction. But it was never clear whose truths she was protecting or even whose law seems to have tripped her up. She resigned abruptly Friday evening without explanation.

Goodling is an improbable character for a political scandal. She's the mirror opposite of that other Monica—the silly, saucy minx who felled Bill Clinton. A 1995 graduate of an evangelical Christian school, Messiah College, and a 1999 graduate of Pat Robertson's Regent University School of Law …, Goodling's chief claim to professional fame appears to have been loyalty to the president and to the process of reshaping the Justice Department in his image (and thus, His image). A former career official there told the Washington Post that Goodling "forced many very talented, career people out of main Justice so she could replace them with junior people that were either loyal to the administration or would score her some points." And as she rose at Justice, according to a former classmate, Goodling "developed a very positive reputation for people coming from Christian schools into Washington looking for employment in government."

Goodling is only one of 150 graduates of Regent University currently serving in this administration, as Regent's Web site proclaims proudly, a huge number for a 29-year-old school. Regent estimates that "approximately one out of every six Regent alumni is employed in some form of government work." And that's precisely what its founder desired. The school's motto is "Christian Leadership To Change the World," and the world seems to be changing apace. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft teaches at Regent, and graduates have achieved senior positions in the Bush administration. The express goal is not only to tear down the wall between church and state in America (a "lie of the left," according to Robertson) but also to enmesh the two.

This legal worldview meshed perfectly with that of former Attorney General John Ashcroft—a devout Pentecostal who forbade use of the word "pride," as well as the phrase "no higher calling than public service," on documents bearing his signature. (He also snatched the last bit of fun out of his press conferences when he covered up the bared breasts of the DoJ statue the "Spirit of Justice"). No surprise that, as he launched a transformation of the Justice Department, the Goodlings looked good to him.

One of Ashcroft's most profound changes was to the Civil Rights Division, launched in 1957 to file cases on behalf of African-Americans and women. Under Ashcroft, career lawyers were systematically fired or forced out and replaced by members of conservative or Christian groups or folks with no civil rights experience. In the five years after 2001, the civil rights division brought no voting cases on behalf of African-Americans. It brought one employment case on behalf of an African-American. Instead, the division took up the "civil rights" abuses of reverse discrimination—claims of voter fraud or discrimination against Christians. On Feb. 20, Gonzales announced a new initiative called the First Freedom Project to carry out "even greater enforcement of religious rights for all Americans." In his view, the fight for a student's right to read a Bible at school is as urgent a civil rights problem as the right to vote.

… the real concern here is that Goodling and her ilk somehow began to conflate God's work with the president's. Probably not a lesson she learned in law school. The dream of Regent and its counterparts, like Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, is to redress perceived wrongs to Christians, to reclaim the public square, and reassert Christian political authority. And while that may have been a part of the Bush/Rove plan, it was, in the end, only a small part. Their real zeal was for earthly power. And Goodling was left holding the earthly bag.
You can read her entire article here.

1 comment:

Vigilante said...

Sisyphus, as you read over her biography and qualifications - or lack there of, she doesn't seem to promise to be anything other than a feckless and defenseless waif before a group of Senators bent to their mandated task of surgery on this travesty of a DoJ. She is nothing, if she isn't a junior edition of Harriet Meiers. In other words, she is nowhere close to having attained experience, wisdom, or judgment qualifing one to exercise supervision or evaluation of Federal Attorneys.

As to Goodling's Christian pretensions, I don't really want to speculate on what Jesus wants her to do. All I want or expect her to do is to open up, tell the truth, the whole truth, and sing to the high heavens like the candy ass she is. Now that you got me thinking about it, I think the Good Lord wants the Bush Administration opened up to the sunlight like the salmon I'm fixing to eat for dinner tonight (not like it's going to taste nearly as good).