The US Department of Justice – Demoralized, Discredited. Dysfunctional.

LAWFUEL – The Law Newswire – Demoralised. Discredited. Dysfunctional. These words are among those used to sum up the state of the US Justice Department under the watch of attorney general Alberto Gonzales, who last month announced he will step down on 17 September.

The resignation, which came after criticism that Gonzales had removed key Department of Justice (DoJ) staffers as part of a Republican-backed drive to control the body’s highly sensitive work, is one of the most serious blows to the DoJ in its 137-year history.

The episode also appears to be the culmination of the growing tensions between the Republican administration and the US legal profession over what critics claim is the increasing politicisation of the US judicial process. Much like a wounded patient in an intensive care unit, the department is in need of critical attention to revive its core mission: law enforcement.

Exactly how much influence Gonzales – the first Hispanic lawyer to hold the office, a close ally of president George Bush and an uncommonly high-profile attorney general – exerted throughout the department is still open to debate, but as his two and a half-year tenure comes to a close, this much is clear: the DoJ is in disarray. Current and ex-career employees, former political appointees, legal scholars, detractors, and supporters all tell the same story: the shortcomings are numerous and the successes few and far between.

With ongoing internal and congressional investigations into the firings of nine US attorneys, the controversial warrant-less surveillance program, the politicisation of the Civil Rights Division and Gonzales’ own testimony to Congress, it is hard to find observers willing to step out and put a positive spin on Gonzales’ tenure. His detractors are not so shy.

“There is no reasonable doubt that Alberto Gonzales will be remembered as one of the worst attorneys general in history and perhaps the most embarrassed, and embarrassing, Cabinet officers ever,” says Daniel Metcalfe, a 30-year veteran of Justice who has become an outspoken critic since retiring in January as head of the DoJ’s Office of Information & Privacy. Some current Justice employees are just relieved to hear that Gonzales is stepping aside.

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