Annual Meeting 2007

ABA Speaks Out on Status of U.S. Attorneys


The ABA remained largely silent as Congress and the Bush administration wrangled during the past several months over whether the firings of nine U.S. attorneys were politically motivated or simply internal personnel decisions by the Department of Justice.

But today, the ABA’s policy-making House of Delegates weighed in on the issue, at least in a general way.

In a voice vote that left no doubt about the near-unanimity of the delegates, the House approved a recommendation stating that the ABA “supports the principle that the appointment, retention, and replacement of United States attorneys and career government attorneys, and the exercise of their professional judgment and discretion should be insulated from improper political considerations.”

The House approved the recommendation by the Bar Association of the District of Columbia near the end of its two-day session in San Francisco. The House adjourned at about 11 a.m. PST, bringing the association’s 2007 annual meeting to its official close.

The ABA remained largely silent as Congress and the Bush administration wrangled during the past several months over whether the firings of nine U.S. attorneys were politically motivated or simply internal personnel decisions by the Department of Justice.

But today, the ABA’s policy-making House of Delegates weighed in on the issue, at least in a general way.

In a voice vote that left no doubt about the near-unanimity of the delegates, the House approved a recommendation stating that the ABA “supports the principle that the appointment, retention, and replacement of United States attorneys and career government attorneys, and the exercise of their professional judgment and discretion should be insulated from improper political considerations.”

The House approved the recommendation by the Bar Association of the District of Columbia near the end of its two-day session in San Francisco. The House adjourned at about 11 a.m. PST, bringing the association’s 2007 Annual Meeting to its official close.

The controversial firings of the U.S. attorneys, which have led to widespread calls by many Democrats and a few key Republicans in Congress for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, were a factor in today’s action by the House of Delegates, said new ABA President William H. Neukom of Seattle. Neukom began his one-year term Monday.

Speaking at a news conference, Neukom declined to, in his words, “pass judgment” on the specific firings that took place last year. But he said there appears to be misunderstanding “in some parts of the government” on the issue of impartiality of Justice Department attorneys, especially prosecutors, in deciding how to proceed with cases on their merits. Efforts to influence those decisions, Neukom said, “is a corruption of justice.”

But Neukom said the House vote also “reflects a longtime ABA belief that U.S. attorneys should be insulated in their day-to-day work from partisan politics.”

Neukom said today’s House action “is a chance for us to sound a very clear note” in support of the exercise of discretion by federal prosecutors. “They wield enormous power,” he said, “and how they wield that power has enormous impact on justice in this country.”

Neukom said that, in addition to advocating generally for keeping U.S. attorneys free from partisan political considerations, the ABA will explore the possibility of developing proposed guidelines and standards for federal prosecutors in bringing cases.

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