We want Justice to be politically independent

Kevin Drum had a nice post today about the fact that we very much want the presidency to be isolated from what happens at the IRS and the Department of Justice.  We absolutely to no want executive branch using these agencies for political gain.  Thus, in these “scandals” it’s not surprising that none of this has gotten anywhere near President Obama.  And that’s a very good thing.  Drum:

Chris Matthews, for example, was howling the other day about Obama’s ignorance of the AP phone record subpoena, which he thought was indefensible. “You don’t think Bobby would have called Jack?” he asked incredulously. And he’s right: Bobby would have called Jack. And that would have been wrong, which is why the Justice Department is now kept at a much greater distance from the White House. This is universally considered a good thing, which explains Jay Carney’s “Are you serious?” when he was asked about this by reporters a few day ago. Surely we haven’t forgotten so soon after Watergate exactly why we prefer for the president to be kept very far away from criminal investigations?

Ditto for the IRS, which for similar reasons is an agency that we’ve deliberately set up to be independent of the president. We don’t want the president to have any influence over the IRS, and we don’t want him kept apprised of the details of ongoing inquiries. It would have been a scandal if Obama had known any details about the IG investigation of the IRS’s tea party targeting.

Meanwhile, here in NC, the new Senate budget proposal is calling for taking the State Bureau of Investigations– which investigates public corruption among other things– and moving its oversight from the independent state Attorney General’s office (our AG is elected statewide, not appointed by the governor) and moving it to the state Department of Public Safety, which is overseen by a gubernatorial appointment.

The SBI supplied much of the manpower in the recent probes into the campaigns and administrations of former Govs. Bev Perdue and Mike Easley, both Democrats. SBI investigators helped build cases against Jim Black, a former Democratic Speaker of the House who went to federal prison on a public corruption charge, and Meg Scott Phipps, a former Democratic state Agriculture Commissioner who served time in federal prison for perjury and obstruction of justice.

The State Highway Patrol and Department of Correction also have been the targets of numerous investigations, as have other state agencies.

For 75 years, Cooper said, the SBI has “provided a check on power.” Prosecutors, courts and the public, he argued, have relied on the investigations because of the SBI’s independence.

“No matter who controls the state legislature, the governor’s office or the attorney general’s office, this system works best,” Cooper said. “Putting the SBI under any governor’s administration increases the risk that corruption and cover-up occur with impunity.”

To our governor’s credit, he opposed this.  The Republican Senator who proposed it said will save $2 million a year.  To which all I have to say, some times it actually costs money to do the right thing.  Deal with it.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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