Justice has been in exile for eight long years. It needs to be restored.
That means restoring checks and balances, accountability, transparency and the rule of law -- some of our most fundamental constitutional values that have been stepped on and undermined by the previous administration. It's going to take a lot of effort and all three branches of government.
- Legislative Branch
- Executive Branch
- Judicial Branch
People For the American Way has a three-point petition to congressional leaders advocating certain steps the legislative branch must take in the comprehensive effort to Restore Justice.
1. Pass legislation to establish a commission to fact find and protect civil liberties moving forward.
2. Ensure that investigations into Bush administration wrongdoings are unobstructed and all subpoenas are vigorously enforced.
3. Make sure those who broke the law are held accountable.
You can sign the petition at http://site.pfaw.org/RestoreJustice.
It's critical that the abuses of the past administration are not repeated. There has been much talk of "truth commissions" with mixed reviews of the idea. People For is more specifically advocating the creation of a congressional commission both to investigate the past administration AND check executive branch overreach in the future. H.R. 104 by Rep. John Conyers would create the National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties -- People For the American Way supports this bill.
The first step for the executive branch is to abandon the devastating policies of the previous administration. President Obama has already signed executive orders moving us away from some of the Bush administration's worst policies, but Americans still need and deserve to see major policy reversals in the areas of:
- excessive government secrecy;
- the denial of habeas corpus and other due process protections to detainees;
- extraordinary rendition;
- and more.
These are all areas in which the rule of law was seriously undermined by the previous presidential administration. The Obama administration must be unequivocal in its repudiation of executive branch transgressions in these areas. Honoring the rule of law is essential to Restoring Justice.
The second step for the executive branch is making sure the Department of Justice acts to protect the constitutional rights of Americans and promote constitutional values in its legal policies. The DOJ played a central role in much of the Bush administration's wrongdoing and it will play a central role in the cleaning up of those messes under the Obama administration. This includes, but is not limited to:
- maintaining a robust civil rights division that protects equality, voting rights and civil liberties;
- approving and recommending policies which are in accordance with the law and with our American values;
- pursuing justice in the interest of the American people, not the president;
- conducting probes into prior misconduct, including that of the Bush administration.
One more part of Restoring Justice is making sure President Obama's DOJ nominees are confirmed so the Department can get to this important work. But some of the nominees have come under fire from the Radical Right.
One of the president's best nominees -- Dawn Johnsen, nominated to head the incredibly important Office of Legal Counsel -- has been targeted by the Right and held up for months by Republicans in the Senate. Read more and take action.
The Supreme Court's majority is likely to remain intact in the short term because most of the anticipated retirements in the next few years will likely come from some of the older progressive and moderate justices, as we saw with the recent replacement of Justice Souter with Sonia Sotomayor. But increasing the Democratic majority in the Senate and keeping John McCain out of the White House were major steps in Restoring Justice to the federal judiciary. Now, it's up to us to make sure:
- President Obama nominates solid justices, in the mold of Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan, to the Supreme Court;
- he nominates judges of a similar temperament who will defend constitutional values to the lower federal courts (to help reverse the damage done by President Bush's packing of the courts with right-wing ideologues); and
- the Senate confirms all good judicial nominees.
The Far Right has already started to flex its muscles and prepare for the judicial confirmation battles to come. Part of this has been its attempted obstruction of some of Obama's DOJ nominations. Even Ken Starr (who led the Right's witch hunt against President Clinton) has weighed in with predictions about future efforts by Republicans to block Obama's judges.
People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation will be doing very focused work around the courts and the Supreme Court in particular over the next several years. Here are some existing resources that could be helpful to activists:
- Transcript -- Beyond the Sigh of Relief: Justices in the Mold of Marshall and Brennan (a forum hosted by People For the American Way Foundation in December at the National Press Club)
- Right Wing Watch In Focus: Attacks on DOJ Nominees Signal Right's Judicial Nominations Strategy
- Index of People For the American Way Foundation's Past Court Reports