J. Michael Luttig says goodbye -- for now

Fed up with Bush administration gamesmanship in a terror case, the conservative judge takes a job at Boeing.

Published May 11, 2006 1:55PM (EDT)

Repeatedly passed over for a spot on the Supreme Court and appalled by the Bush administration's gamesmanship in the Jose Padilla case, Fourth Circuit Judge J. Michael Luttig submitted his resignation Wednesday.

Luttig tells a Virginia newspaper that the fact that George W. Bush didn't name him to the Supreme Court had nothing to do with his decision to leave. Rather, he says, "serendipity" brought to his doorstep the chance to become general counsel for Boeing, and he and his wife decided it was an offer too good to refuse.

Luttig took the Bush administration to task in December when it tried to yank alleged enemy combatant Jose Padilla out of the criminal justice system in what seemed to be an effort to avoid an unfavorable ruling from the Supreme Court. In an unusually harsh opinion, Luttig said the administration's actions in the Padilla case "have left the impression" that the government has decided that the president's supposed authority to hold enemy combatants indefinitely can "yield to expediency with little or no cost to its conduct of the war against terror -- an impression we would have thought the government likewise could ill afford to leave extant."

"These impressions have been left, we fear, at what may ultimately prove to be substantial cost to the government's credibility before the courts, to whom it will one day need to argue again in support of a principle of assertedly like importance and necessity to the one that it seems to abandon today," Luttig wrote. "While there could be an objective that could command such a price as all of this, it is difficult to imagine what that objective would be."

As the Wall Street Journal reports today, "people close to the Bush administration" have dismissed Luttig's opinion in the Padilla case as little more than a "judicial tantrum."

In moving to Boeing, Luttig isn't necessarily killing hope that some Republican president will name him to the Supreme Court some day. As the Journal notes, one of Luttig's jobs for the aircraft manufacturer will be to persuade members of Congress that it's dealing seriously with pending corruption investigations. Chief among those he'll be persuading: Sen. John McCain.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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