We’ve heard quite a bit recently from Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and Michael Mukasey, so I suppose it stands to reason that it’s time for Alberto Gonzales to reemerge, too.
The former attorney general has been wise to keep a low profile. In office, he was a national laughingstock. Upon Gonzales’ departure, Andrew Cohen wrote a terrific piece explaining, “By any reasonable standard, the Gonzales Era at the Justice Department is void of almost all redemptive qualities.” He sought a legal job in D.C. but couldn’t find a firm that would hire him, and the last I heard, Gonzales ended up teaching at an unaccredited law school.
The former A.G. nevertheless appeared on MSNBC this morning, apparently ready to address some of the ongoing controversies. He seemed inclined to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt when it came to subpoenaing Associated Press phone logs, but this nevertheless stood out for me.
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recalled on Wednesday a time when he was confronted with a “very serious leak investigation” similar to the one that has embroiled the Obama administration this week. But, he said, he went a very different route and decided against subpoenaing a reporter’s notes.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday defended the seizure of Associated Press phone records, saying the Department of Justice was trying to get to the bottom of a “very serious leak” that “put American people at risk.” Gonzales, who oversaw a massive domestic wiretapping program under former President George W. Bush, acknowledged on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the attorney general is often forced to “make a very hard determination” but when faced with a similar dilemma, his Justice Department “ultimately decided not to move forward.”
Now, I can’t be sure which case Gonzales is referring to, but for the record, let’s not forget that during his tenure as attorney general, the Justice Department “improperly gained access to reporters’ calling records as part of leak investigations.” Indeed, it happened quite a bit.
Unlike the current uproar, we didn’t hear much about this at the time, but if Gonzales wants to give the impression now that his DOJ showed greater restraint when it came to journalists and phone logs, he’s mistaken.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 2013
It’s nearly impossible to get 99 U.S. senators to agree on anything.
But this past weekend, 99 senators agreed to send a non-binding message that the $83 billion subsidy “too big to fail” banks get from the government needs to end. The measure was co-sponsored by senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and David Vitter (R-LA).
The implicit subsidy first came to light in February when a Bloomberg News report found that “recurrent bailouts of the largest financial institutions have given [big banks] a unique advantage: They get a break on their borrowing costs, because creditors expect taxpayers to support them whenever they get into trouble.”
Shortly thereafter, Attorney General Eric Holder made the shocking admission that the Justice Department exercises restraint in prosecuting big banks for fear of shocking the global financial system.
“I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy,” Holder said, during testimony to the Senate Banking Committee.
Now all of the Senate’s Republicans have joined with senators Brown and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — who have long warned of the big banks’ continued ability to wreck havoc on the economy — to call for an end to the implicit subsidy.
“I’m glad that Republicans and Democrats can agree: ‘Too big to fail’ needs to end, and these big-bank subsidies make no sense,” Senator Warren said.
Bank lobbyists have denied that the subsidy exists. But as a Bloomberg editorial notes, they’ve rejected any steps that would prevent the government from having to serve as their backstop in case of a crisis.
“If big banks don’t get a subsidy on their debt, it’s hard to understand why they’re so adamantly opposed to measures, such as increased capital requirements, that would put a limit on their borrowing,” the editors noted. “Large banks commonly borrow $25 or more for each $1 in equity — or capital — they get from their shareholders, compared with less than 50 cents per $1 of equity for the average U.S. corporation.”
Financial reform following the financial crisis was weakened by bank lobbying. As Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) noted at the time, the “banks own the place.” And by “the place,” he meant Congress.
This vote shows the sentiment is swinging against the banks. Whether senators are willing to vote against them when actual legislation is on the line still remains to be seen.
By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, March 25, 2013
One of the fears that may instill the occasional bout of night terror among American pols is the possibility that “friendly” SuperPACs who don’t agree with the strategy, tactics, or message they ostensibly support will fall into a giant vat of unregulated cash and do something stupid and counter-productive.
We may be about to see how effectively Republicans can keep that from happening, via a new Super-PAC created by the shady oppo researcher Stephen Marks that’s already released a web ad which is a small masterpiece of racism-posing-as-anti-racism.
As ThinkProgress’ Josh Israel reports:
FightBigotry.com, a new Super PAC registered with the Federal Election Commission this week, makes no bones about its aim. It intends to run an attack ad that it says will hit President Barack Obama for “his disturbing, yet crystal-clear pattern of tacitly defending black racism against white folks before and since being elected president.”
Marks is one of those Breitbartian heroes who is proud of being a nasty piece of work, and who specializes in racial appeals. Check out his ad, if you have a strong stomach: http://youtu.be/MYcGui5JrQg
Interesting, eh? Every single human image in this 120-second ad is of African-Americans, with the exception of (a) a white man who is apparently being bullied by a finger-pointing Eric Holder; (b) a white cop who is leading Henry Louis Gates, Jr., to the hoosegow in handcuffs; and (c) white people in a 2008 Obama campaign audience who have (the voiceover suggests) been betrayed and mocked by the black racist president and his black racist administration. You got your Jeremiah Wright. You got your New Black Panther Party thugs. Even Dr. Martin Luther King, who is quoted as championing the anti-racist sentiments Obama and company have betrayed, comes across as loud and threatening.
Now this is just a web ad, but the two questions it raises are whether (a) some rich wingnut might decide it’s exactly what white voters in battleground states need to see and hear, and gets it on the air regardless of what the official GOP says it wants, or (b) it goes viral without any paid broadcasting. In the latter event, Republicans can benefit from whatever racist sentiments it arouses without complicity (unless progressives loudly demand they denounce it); and even in the former event, Mitt Romney, for one, has been known to refuse any blame for nasty ads run by others—even by his own pet Super-PAC.
I sincerely hope this crap gets buried in the slag-heap of ephemeral political communications. But I would not be the farm on it.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 3, 2012
In 1964, the American people enacted the 24th Amendment, to prevent the exclusion of the poor from the ballot box. In his speech last week at the NAACP convention, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. wasn’t indulging in election-year rhetoric when he condemned Texas’ 2011 voter photo identification law as a poll tax that could do just that. He was speaking the hard legal truth.
The Justice Department would be right to challenge this new law as an unconstitutional poll tax. The department has temporarily blocked the Texas law under special provisions of the Voting Rights Act that prevent states with a history of discrimination from disadvantaging minority groups. But the
attorney general should go further and raise a 24th Amendment challenge against Texas and other states that are joining the effort to bar the poor from the polls. This exclusionary campaign should not be allowed to destroy a great constitutional achievement of the civil rights revolution.
The 24th Amendment forbids the imposition of “any poll tax or other tax” in federal elections. Texas’ law flatly violates this provision in dealing with would-be voters who don’t have a state-issued photo ID. To obtain an acceptable substitute, they must travel to a driver’s license office and submit appropriate documents, along with their fingerprints, to establish their qualifications. If they don’t have the required papers, they must pay $22 for a copy of their birth certificate.
If they can’t come up with the money for the qualifying documents, they can’t vote. But the 24th Amendment denies states the power to create such a financial barrier to the ballot box.
Texas’ violation is particularly blatant. In drafting its law, the Legislature rejected a provision that would have provided free copies of the necessary documents. Rather than paying for this service out of the general revenue fund, it chose to disqualify voters who couldn’t pay the fee. This is precisely the choice forbidden by the Constitution.
The 24th Amendment doesn’t only invalidate the $22 tax. Texas also can’t impose unnecessarily arduous certification procedures. The Supreme Court took up this issue shortly after the amendment was ratified in 1964. The state of Virginia had told its citizens they could avoid its $1.50 poll tax only if they filed a formal certificate establishing their residency. Lars Forssenius and others refused to comply, and a near-unanimous Supreme Court in 1965 agreed with them. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the ruling that the state’s administraton of its residency certificate requirement was a “real obstacle to voting in federal elections” that “abridged” the franchise. He emphasized that constitutional end-runs were not permitted. “For federal elections,” he explained, “the poll tax is abolished absolutely as a prerequisite to voting, and no equivalent or milder substitute may be imposed.”
This broad functional view of taxation is firmly rooted in our constitutional tradition. In his recent opinion in the healthcare case, for example, Chief Justice John G. RobertsJr.adopted the same approach in finding that the “penalty” imposed by the Affordable Care Act was the functional equivalent of a tax.
But in Warren’s ruling, the same broad approach to taxation led to a very different conclusion. Unlike Roberts, Warren was not marking out the boundaries of congressional power. He was restricting the power of the states to impose unnecessary administrative barriers that were the functional equivalents of poll taxes.
Applying Warren’s approach to the present day has large practical implications. The estimated number of registered voters in Texas without valid IDs ranges from 167,000 (according to the state) to more than 1 million (according to the federal government). The Justice Department also emphasizes that minority groups are disproportionately affected. What is more, 10 other states have passed similar laws in the last two years alone. All these statutes raise fundamental problems under the 24th Amendment.
Curiously, these problems have been overlooked in the escalating wave of challenges to this recent round of exclusionary legislation. Civil rights lawyers have focused instead on more familiar texts such as the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment. Though these provisions are important, they were created in response to a host of other issues. The poll tax amendment, in contrast, was focused on the very problem that now threatens again to undermine our democracy: imposing costs on the poor that prevent them from voting.
The attorney general was right to recall the amendment from legal obscurity, and to insist that we remember the determined effort by the civil rights generation to end this disgraceful practice forever.
By: Bruce Ackerman and Jennifer Nou, The Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2012
In an address to the National Council of La Raza convention in Las Vegas on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder told the Hispanic advocacy group that the gains of the Civil Rights era were coming “under renewed threat,” and touted the administration’s efforts in protecting the rights of minority groups and immigrants.
“Many of you know this firsthand – and have felt the impact of division, and even discrimination, in your own lives,” said Holder in his address, according to prepared remarks released by the Justice Department.”
The attorney general pledged that the civil rights advocacy group would “never have a more committed partner than the United States Department of Justice” and touted the administration’s record on those issues.
In particular, Holder highlighted the Supreme Court’s ruling last week striking down much of Arizona’s law targeting illegal immigration.
In a 5-3 ruling, the court rejected most provisions of the law, but let stand a key measure allowing police to check the legal status of those stopped on suspicion of committing unrelated offenses.
Holder said with the decision, the justices were “confirming the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate with regard to immigration issues.”
But Holder, expressed concerns over the provision left standing. “We’ll work to ensure – as the Court affirmed – that such laws cannot be seen as a license to engage in racial profiling. And we’ll continue to enforce federal prohibitions against racial and ethnic discrimination, in order – as President Obama has promised – to “uphold our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” he said.
The attorney general also touted the administration’s decision to halt the deportation of some young illegal immigrants, a move popular within the Hispanic community, calling it “a significant – and long-overdue – improvement to our nation’s immigration policy.”
Holder said the next step was for lawmakers to push through more comprehensive immigration reform and he said the administration would “keep working with Congressional leaders – from both parties – to advance the passage of critical legislation like the DREAM Act.”
Holder’s address to the prominent Hispanic organization comes as both President Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s campaigns boost their efforts to win over voters from the key demographic. Hispanics hold sway in many pivotal battleground states, adding to their importance this election cycle.
Polls, however, show Hispanics overwhelmingly backing Obama, bolstered in part by the decision to change deportation rules.
Holder told the civil rights group that the DOJ would remain vigilant to protect the rights of all Americans.
“Over the past three years, our Civil Rights Division has filed more criminal civil rights cases than during any other period in its history – including record numbers of human trafficking, hate crimes, and police misconduct cases,” said Holder, pledging that such efforts would remain a “top priority” for the department.
The Obama administration is also sending Vice President Biden to the convention. He is scheduled to speak on Tuesday.
Romney, however, will not be attending, and chose instead to send a surrogate, former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez was not given a speaking role and instead met with attendees at the conference.
By: Meghashyam Mali, The Hill, July 7, 2012