As right-wing religious leaders attack Alberto Gonzales for being insufficiently doctrinaire, it's tempting to accept him as the best we can get for the Supreme Court. In a recent HuffingtonPost blog, Rob McKay suggested we mute our opposition voices precisely because a Gonzales nomination would divide the political right and fracture their coalition.
But accepting someone with the track record and values of Gonzales would be a grievous mistake. We're in our current mess in large part because our culture has been unable to confront the profoundly destructive consequences of the choices made by our leaders. To equivocate about Gonzales's role in these choices is to accept a culture of lies.
Of course, we don't completely control the outcome in this fight. It depends on the Democrats showing enough spine and the half-dozen supposedly moderate Republicans placing democracy ahead of short-term partisan advantage, and refusing to eliminate the judicial filibuster. But when someone exhibits as much contempt for due process as Gonzales does, we have to challenge him, in every way we can.
Gonzales is not David Souter, a relative unknown. He's someone who's embraced the most radical extensions of presidential power and most radical contempt for human rights. He called the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and "obsolete." He chaired the 2002 meetings that that argued that interrogations were not torture unless they produced "injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions." He wrote the Presidential Order saying that terror suspects could be tried and sentenced to death by secret military tribunals.
Gonzales has also been consistently promoted questionable corporate interests. While on the Texas Supreme Court, he accepted major donations from corporations, like Halliburton, with cases before the court (Halliburton had five separate cases). Then he consistently supported the positions of these companies while refusing to recuse himself. He similarly refused to recuse himself from the Bush administration's investigation of the Enron scandal, though he'd received $14,000 from the company of "Kenny Boy." When the Government Accountability Office asked who participated in Dick Cheney's secret energy policy meetings, Gonzales blocked release of the documents.
Maybe a Gonzales nomination would temporarily split the right. But he isn't someone to embrace, either morally or politically. And if we let his potential nomination go through without a fight, Bush can still heal the wounds in his coalition by nominating a “real” conservative to William Rehnquist's seat. Meanwhile we'll have raised the bar still further till we're unable to challenge anyone short of Attila the Hun or Vlad the Impaler, and then only if they've spoken too bluntly.
We may not win in challenging Gonzales, but at least we will make clear why giving him a lifetime appointment is an outrage to democracy. We can highlight the profound destructiveness of the values that he and this administration represent. We can challenge the Republican “moderates” to stay true to their word and maintain the option of the judicial filibuster.
If we do this successfully, we'll help define Bush's Republicans not just as captives to some vague notion of extremism, but to specific policies that assault our democracy, endanger the lives of its citizens, and plunder the planet that we inhabit. If swing Republicans still vote to eliminate the filibuster, or insist on the confirmation of Gonzales, we can and should hang this action around their necks, and brand them, come election time, not only for embracing legal torture and unalloyed giveaways to corporate interests, but also for annihilating 200 years of democratic checks and balances in the service of a raw power grab.
Those on the political right have split and reunited too often for us to count on their rupture over even something as consequential as a Supreme Court nomination. When election time comes, they'll cut their losses and work together to elect those who will give them the maximum power. Learning from this means not giving up on challenging reprehensible nominees before we start.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear (Basic Books, 2004), winner of the Nautilus Award for best social change book of last year. He's also the author of Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time and three other books.
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