Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ideally, the Federal Attorney General would be separately elected

Changing the structure of the national government is almost impossible given the current conditions, but even in the best of circumstances it's very difficult.

When it comes to "society," we need to distinguish between "the people"/society and "government."  Government is created "by the people" so that we can be organized at the local-regional-state-national scale. 

I argue that law, since it is the way that relations are constructed and mediated between people within society, belongs to the people more than to the "government" ("Executive Power vs. the will of the people and the DC Attorney General," 2015)

It's why I argued that the DC Attorney General should be popularly elected although I am somewhat disappointed by the results thus far.

Elected AGs disconnect "ownership" and more importantly control of the law from the Executive Branch. 

As we can see from the Trump Administration, first in picking such a conservative as Jeff Sessions for Attorney General ("Jeff Sessions Confirmed as Attorney General, Capping Bitter Battle." New York Times), and now Trump's desire for the Justice Department to back off investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 Elections and culpability within the Trump campaign ("(President Trump and Jeff Sessions no longer on speaking terms," AOL), there is value to having "critical distance" between "the Justice Department" and the rest of the government, and this is in keeping with the concept that law, as a basic organizing instrument of society, belongs to the people first, and to elected officials second.

In short, I argue that the Attorney General of the US should be popularly elected, separately from the President.  And the Department of Justice should be under the AG.

Some years ago I mentioned this once at an event held by Ralph Nader, and he understood the value of the suggestion, even if the main speaker did not.

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I don't think Jeff Sessions ("Hearing Highlights: Sessions Questioned on Links to Xenophobia," NYT) could have been elected as Attorney General, given the various positions he holds on:

-- civil rights protections
-- voting restrictions
-- asset forfeiture
-- lengthening sentences regardless of case circumstances
-- private operation of prisons
etc.

It would be great for these kinds of matters to be discussed in the context of a campaign every four years.

To help increase voter turnout, I'd have this office be elected in the off-year cycle for national elections, not during the Presidential election cycle.

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3 Comments:

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Greg Sanders said...

Interesting idea. I'm a bit skeptical, as while I forget where, I'd recently read some arguments that the public was often more vindictive on criminal justice matters than elected representatives. On the other hand, I think that argument was more about prosecutors than the A.G. and I've generally been pretty content with how the separate office has worked out in Maryland.

And, overall, the U.S. executive branch is dangerously powerful and this would mitigate that situation in a range of ways. So pending comparative politics study on the costs and benefits of directly elected AGs, I'm cautiously supportive.

 
At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is hardly ideal.

Ideally, you wouldn't have elected prosecutors at all. You'd have truly independent prosecution. The US tradition of electing prosecutors is an outlier among developed countries.

 
At 12:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Electing prosecutors is different from electing the AG.

Most states have elected AGs, but not all. (My 8th grade french teacher was the daughter of the then state AG, who had been in office for decades, so that's an issue.)

WRT electing local prosecutors, I hadn't really thought about it. The reason I am somewhat disappointed in the DC elected AG is that it doesn't appear to me that they are developing the capacity to make the case for "devolving" authority for criminal prosecution to the city away from the USDOJ. But that's a separate issue, and admittedly, not being a part of the office, etc., maybe they are doing great stuff that I am unaware of.

2. the thing that makes elected prosecutors tough is the bias for prosecution, the presumption that once you are moving forward to charge, the person is guilty.

As we know, there are plenty of instances of where this gets in the way of fairness, like in the Bronx, and New Orleans. I still can't believe the Supreme Court said that New Orleans prosectuors weren't liable for withholding evidence and other Constitutional violations.

A couple years ago the Orange County Register did a searing series on abuses with "confidential informants" placed in the county jail to get/shape "confessions."

Etc.

Figuring out how to balance "Old Testament" and "New Testament" issues of justice is very difficult and I can't claim to have the answer in its entirety.

Thank you for bringing up these issues.

 

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