Attorney General Eric Holder’s override of the career attorneys’ opinion on the constitutionality of the DC voting rights statute has stirred up a hornet’s nest. The Wall Street Journal sums up:
We’re in favor of Administrations making their own policy decisions, and an AG is certainly within his rights to overrule career attorneys. But it is extraordinary to overrule an Office of Legal Counsel opinion that we’re told is rooted in Justice Department analysis going back to the JFK-LBJ Administrations. It is also extraordinary for an AG to so blatantly politicize the Solicitor General’s office, which is the home of lawyers who argue cases before the Supreme Court. Imagine if Alberto Gonzales had tried that one.
Meanwhile, the Office of Legal Counsel opinion should give Congress pause about its rush to enact the law, which has already passed the Senate but is stalled in the House over D.C. gun rights . Democrats want the bill to pass so it gives them another House vote, while setting the stage for two more Democratic Senators. We’ll gladly run the memo if someone leaks it to us, and, if nothing else, this should end the canard that only Republican Justice Departments are political.
In the Bush era, members of Congress would be hollering for oversight hearings to learn what arm-twisting was applied and what was in that OLC opinion. Sen. John Cornyn has called for release of the OLC memo finding the DC voting rights bill to be unconstitutional. His request was rebuffed. It seems that Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee is uniquely positioned to get to the bottom of this. Does he plan to push for hearings? Has he sent a letter to Holder demanding to know what Holder was doing meddling with the work of career attorneys? As the Washington Post notes:
Holder’s actions raised eyebrows because they appeared to politicize the legal review. During the Bush administration, lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel were accused of shaping their opinions to suit superiors in the White House.
The opinion declaring the bill unconstitutional was approved by David Barron, an Obama appointee and Democrat who is serving as acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment.
It seems that the already controversial nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the OLC, the very office at issue, should be delayed until we get to the bottom of this.