The Corner

Who Lost Luttig?

This won’t quite be the same debate as “Who Lost China?” but it’s an important one. Luttigis among the smartest legal conservatives alive. He was famously the most conservative judge in the most conservative court in the country. It seems that one of the main reasons he left is that he felt the Bush Admistration, particularly the Gonzales Justice Department played games in his court. The Wall Street Journal has a long piece on it here.  An excerpt:

McLEAN, Va. — On Nov. 22, U.S. Circuit Judge J. Michael Luttig was at work in his chambers here when he received a telephone call telling him to switch on the television. There, he saw Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announce that the government would file charges against Jose Padilla in a federal court — treating the accused terrorist like a normal criminal suspect.

The judge was stunned. Two months earlier, he had written a landmark opinion saying the government could hold Mr. Padilla without charge in a military brig.  The decision validated President Bush’s claim that he could set aside Mr. Padilla’s constitutional rights in the name of national security. The judge assumed the government had a compelling reason to consider the suspect an extraordinary threat. Now Mr. Gonzales wanted the courts to forget the whole case.

It didn’t take long for the judge’s anger to burst out into the open. The next month he wrote that moves such as the attorney general’s cast doubt on the Bush administration’s “credibility before the courts.” Judge Luttig tried to block Mr. Padilla’s transfer to civilian custody from the brig. The administration’s top litigator fired back that the judge “defies both law and logic.”

 Relations between the Bush White House and Luttig got worse from there. I have no doubt that the story’s a bit more complicated and Luttig felt passed-over for SCOTUS and all that. But if you’re looking for another reason to think Alberto Gonzales is more of a problem than a solution, this strikes me as a great one. 

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