Joe Conason's Journal

Authoritarian Ashcroft rankles judges -- even Rehnquist.

Published August 6, 2003 7:32PM (EDT)

I'd like to blame my misreading of those Fox poll numbers on the excited friends who sent them to me this morning -- but the fault too obviously lies with me for failing to notice that those numbers were for August 2001 -- not 2003. The most recent poll, as readers wrote to point out, was completed July 30, and showed Bush with 47 percent thinking he deserves to be elected again, and 40 percent opposed. Not the greatest numbers for the White House, but not a plurality in opposition as I suggested, either. To paraphrase Mose Allison, my mind is on vacation while my fingers are typing overtime. Sorry.

Republicans who love liberty  and despise Ashcroft
As liberty-loving Republicans gaze with horror upon the works of John Ashcroft, his authoritarian perversions of law and the Constitution could become a wedge issue next year  but only if Democrats muster the courage to fight for the Bill of Rights. Todays Wall Street Journal features a page-one account of the controversy over the Attorney Generals bullying of federal judges who depart from new strict sentencing guidelines, in a campaign that even Chief Justice Rehnquist thinks will seriously impair the ability of courts to impose just and responsible sentences. Ashcrofts latest incursions on judicial independence, which have transformed the U.S. Sentencing Commission into a tool of intimidation, are denounced as scary by Rep. John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat, which is no surprise. But many of the judges and lawyers appalled by Ashcroft are Republicans.

My Observer colleague Greg Sargent reports on an amicus brief filed July 30 by a distinguished, bipartisan group, denouncing the grossly unconstitutional detention of alleged dirty bomb conspirator Jose Padilla, without trial or counsel. Among the briefs signers is Harold R. Tyler, Jr., the Republican eminence and former federal judge who helped to restore the Justice Department after Nixon gang left it in ruins and became a mentor to Rudolph Giuliani.

"This is an extraordinary case, the former deputy attorney general declares in an interview with the Observer (where you can also find my current column on Bush and his family friends from Riyadh). We have in this country something called habeas corpus, which guarantees that a person who is held incommunicado has to be produced in a court. The people in the government seem to have forgotten that. They should charge this man if theyve got something against him. And they should give him right to counsel. These are all constitutional rights." And, he laments, "I have been a longtime Republican, but Im a disenchanted Republican in this case."

Among the other prominent attorneys signing the amicus brief, which denounces the conduct of Ashcroft (and Bush) as a threat to the rule of law, are Philip A. Lacovara, former president of the District of Columbia bar and former deputy solicitor general under President Nixon, who donated money to George W. Bushs 2000 Presidential effort; former federal judge and Clinton White House counsel Abner J. Mikva; and former federal judges William Norris and H. Lee Sarokin.

Speaking of Republican disenchantment with the Bush league, Fox News must be rather troubled that their latest poll indicates a plurality of Americans now believe the President should be ushered out of the White House in 2004. He still beats all of the Democratic contenders (and Hillary Clinton) in matchups, but that re-elect number is a very bad sign.

[12:28 p.m. PST, August 6, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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