Why I Support Attorney General Mukasey
My only disappointment that Attorney General Michael Mukasey has accepted Boston College Law School’s invitation to be the Commencement Speaker this May is that he will not be the speaker at my own Commencement next year. The recent controversy surrounding Mr. Mukasey is unfortunate and reflects poorly on those creating it. It demonstrates a lack of understanding about the role of a lawyer in our society and about or system of government, and furthermore, is hypocritical.
Lost in the attacks on Mr. Mukasey is who the man really is. Understanding his accomplishments prior to his nomination as Attorney General demonstrates why he is deserving of the law school’s Founder’s Medal, and more importantly, the respect of the entire law school community. Mr. Mukasey served on the United States District for the Southern District of New York from 1987 to 2006 and served as its Chief Judge from 2000 to 2006. Mr. Mukasey had previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Manhattan. He has also led a distinguished career as a private litigator. Mr. Mukasey has received several awards during his career, including the Learned Hand Medal for Excellence in Federal Jurisprudence from the Federal Bar Council, the William Tendy Award from the Fiske Association, and awards from the Seymour Association and the Respect for Law Alliance, among others.
Those upset with Mr. Mukasey suggest he advocates illegal or immoral interrogation techniques. What seems to escape his detractors is that Mr. Mukasey did not advocate for, or support, any specific interrogation techniques during his confirmation hearings. When asked for his personal opinion, his response was exactly that of his detractors. “Mukasey said that techniques described as waterboarding by lawmakers ‘seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me, and would probably seem the same to many Americans.’ But, he continued, ‘hypotheticals are different from real life, and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical.’” The Washington Post, Oct. 31, 2007, page A01.
Mr. Mukasey separated his personal beliefs from a professional legal one on behalf of his client, as any lawyer must do, including our own faculty. Do we look down on our professors who have represented convicted murderers and rapists, or who have worked on behalf of local governments seeking to use their eminent domain powers to take away homes from families and the elderly so that a developer can put up a 7-Eleven that produces more tax revenues? No. We may not invite their clients over for dinner, and we might even find their clients to be reprehensible, but we would never protest against them because of their clients. Quite the opposite. We all look up to them for advice and counsel, and many of us consider them good friends, regardless of current or prior clients.
Mr. Mukasey should not be treated any differently. President Bush nominated him with strong bipartisan support, including that of Senator Charles Schumer of New York (no admirer of the President or any of his prior nominees to any position, be it the federal judiciary or the most obscure of government desk jobs). The strong bipartisan support he received at the time of his nomination was a result of his long, distinguished, and even-handed career as a federal prosecutor and judge. That is why he will be speaking at Commencement, and why he deserves the Founder’s Medal as well as our admiration.
Some have attacked Mr. Mukasey for refusing to unilaterally declare certain interrogation techniques illegal. That displays a lack of understanding about how our federal system of government works, and whose job it is to declare something illegal. The Attorney General, a member of the Executive Branch, can only enforce what the law is. It is up to Congress to make something illegal. Students and faculty outraged with certain forms of interrogation should not direct their efforts toward attacking Mr. Mukasey, but rather at lobbying their legislators to make “waterboarding” expressly illegal, or vote them out of office for having done nothing about the matter for years.
As for those arguing that Mr. Mukasey’s testimony should disqualify him from speaking and receiving the Founder’s Medal because his testimony offends Catholic teachings, I find tremendous hypocrisy. The Catholic Church teaches against harsh interrogation techniques. But the Catholic Church also teaches – perhaps even more forcefully – against abortion. Where were all the faculty and students who oppose Mr. Mukasey on moral grounds when Congressman Markey, a vocal abortion rights advocate, delivered the Commencement address in 2007? Not a single member of the faculty tried to organize students against Mr. Markey. No forums were held for students to vent about the “immoral” activities that Mr. Markey supports, both personally and actively, unlike Mr. Mukasey’s alleged “support” for torture, which is evidenced by his answer of “I don’t know” to a question on the subject. It is Congressman Markey who has personal views in conflict with the Catholic Church, not Mr. Mukasey. It is hypocritical for some to use the Catholic Church’s teachings only when it fits their political agendas, and ignore it, or deride it for being “incorrect” or “out-of-touch,” when it does not.
I am proud that Mr. Mukasey is coming to Boston College Law School. He has led a distinguished career and the Class of 2008 could not ask for a better speaker. But I am ashamed that some students and faculty are actively organizing against his appearance. I have no problem with, and in fact applaud, efforts to generate discourse on waterboarding. But for students and faculty to turn their backs on Mr. Mukasey at Commencement, skip Commencement, or otherwise disrupt the ceremonies, is a black mark on them and reflects poorly on Boston College Law School. One wonders whether Mr. Mukasey is being opposed not because of his Senate testimony, but like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on main campus in 2006, and unlike Congressman Markey here in 2007, simply because Mr. Mukasey works for President Bush.