Attorney General

Profs: Gonzales Misunderstood Job

There is one simple reason why soon-to-be former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is losing his job, several law professors say: He never understood what he was supposed to be doing.

Gonzales seemed to think he should be acting as the president’s personal legal counsel. But in fact, his job was to represent the interests of the nation, says James Tierney in a lengthy Philadelphia Inquirer interview published as an opinion piece.

“The attorney general never did his job—which was to enforce the law on behalf of the American people,” says Tierney, a former Maine attorney general who is now director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School. “He simply didn’t understand he had a job that was separate from being the personal lawyer and friend of the president.”

Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago Law School professor and former dean, agrees.

“The primary responsibility of the attorney general is to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States in a fair and evenhanded manner. In failing to comprehend this responsibility, Gonzales compromised himself, his office, the Constitution and, ultimately, the president who appointed him,” Stone writes in the Chicago Tribune’s editorial section.

In sharp contrast to Gonzales, several of his predecessors distinguished themselves in this role, Stone says, citing, among others, Francis Biddle, who unsuccessfully tried to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt not to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“Of course, it is not all Gonzales’ fault,” Stone writes, saying that the attorney general lacked the sterling credentials of predecessors like Biddle. “But for his long-standing friendship with Bush, he would never have been, and should never have been, within hailing distance of a position of such responsibility. He was in over his head.”

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