The Breakfast Table

Where Should the New Department of Justice Start?

When Barack Obama becomes president in January and his chosen lawyers take over the top positions in the Justice Department and the other legal levers of the federal government, the sigh of relief will be loud and long. And then lawyers and commentators inside and outside the government will start asking, “Now what?” Indeed, they already have.

How exactly does the new Obama legal corps go about diverging from the Bush era? Which precedents do they repudiate, what do they simply ignore, and what do they keep? For every potential goal, there’s a complicated set of underlying and interlocking questions about the nuts and bolts. How exactly do you go about closing Guantanamo? What should happen next in the long battle over access to the federal courts for inmates there? How should DoJ reinvigorate civil rights litigation? Protect voting rights? And what do the Obama lawyers do about investigating their Bush predecessors for potential crimes and ethical violations, about everything from torture to the suspicious firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006?

Dahlia, Stuart, Joe, and David—please do serve up your expertise on some of these questions, as well as anything else you come up with to ask and answer. I’m especially interested at the moment in how seriously you think the new administration is, and should be, taking the idea of a new detention law that could establish a national-security court for trying some terrorism charges. Should Obama go in this direction, or should he stick with the rules that provide for secrecy and security in the regular federal courts? I also want to hear from Joe and David about voting rights. Before the November election, David, you decried the Bush DoJ’s investigation of the liberal group ACORN for potential voting fraud. If that probe was a partisan scare tactic, where should the new DoJ put its energy instead? And, Stuart and Dahlia, what’s your current feeling about the new DoJ investigating the old one? Should the Obama folks stick to a truth commission-like function, and pardon the old guard, as Stuart has suggested? Or is it premature to give up on potential criminal indictments, as Dahlia has?

Grab your coffee mugs, thank you for joining us, and may the Breakfast Table be seated.


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