In picking next AG, Bush should take a lesson from Ford

August 27, 2007Duke Law News

Aug. 27, 2007 -- President Gerald Ford’s pick of University of Chicago President Edward Levi as attorney general following Watergate should be the model for President Bush as he replaces Alberto Gonzales, says Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky.

“It is essential that the next attorney general be a person with impeccable credentials and unquestionable independence,” said Chemerinsky, a professor of law and political science. “The Democratic-controlled Senate should refuse to confirm anyone who does not fit this profile.”

Upon taking office in 1974 after President Richard Nixon’s resignation, Ford faced a Justice Department that had been tarnished by the Watergate scandal, Chemerinsky noted. Top officials, including former Attorney General John Mitchell, had been involved in the cover-up which led to several being indicted and convicted. Others, such as Attorney General Elliot Richardson, resigned rather than participate in the firing of Archibald Cox as the special prosecutor.

“President Ford rightly saw the need to restore credibility to the Justice Department and did so by naming Levi as his attorney general. Levi did exactly that. His qualifications were unassailable and no one could question his independence from the White House,” Chemerinsky said. *

Just as in 1974, the Justice Department today is tainted by scandals, Chemerinsky said. “There has been an unprecedented use of political affiliation in filling staff attorneys positions. It appears that United States attorneys were fired to stop investigations and because they would not initiate politically motivated prosecutions. Attorney General Gonzales made inaccurate statements about what happened.

“President Bush must name someone from outside the administration and someone who has stellar credentials. Another possibility would be tapping a retired judge. It is hard to imagine a person who would do more to restore the image of the department than retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.”

For more information contact Frances Presma at (919) 613-7248 or presma@law.duke.edu.

* Duke Law School Dean David F. Levi is the son of former U.S. Attorney General Edward Levi.
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