As political pressure continues to grow for the White House to fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the U.S. Senate passed a bill on Thursday afternoon that will roll back the unilateral authority of the attorney general to appoint U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation. The Patriot Act Reauthorization Bill of 2005 removed the previous requirement of Senate confirmation of, or a 120 day time limit on interim U.S. attorneys. Instead the law was changed to, “A person appointed as United States attorney under this section may serve until the qualification of a United States Attorney for such district appointed by the President under section 541 of this title.”

This gave the attorney general not only the power to fire U.S. attorneys, but also to appoint replacements to unlimited terms with no congressional confirmation or oversight. In essence, the Senate vote restored Section 546 Title 28 of U.S. Code, which says that a, “person appointed as United States attorney under this section may serve until the earlier of the qualification of a United States attorney for such district appointed by the President under section 541 of this title; or the expiration of 120 days after appointment by the Attorney General under this section.  If an appointment expires under subsection (c)(2), the district court for such district may appoint a United States attorney to serve until the vacancy is filled. The order of appointment by the court shall be filed with the clerk of the court.”

By a tally of 94-2 the Senate voted to change the law back to what it was before the Patriot Act was reauthorized. “If you politicize the prosecutors, you politicize everybody in the whole chain of law enforcement,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The House is expected to pass this bill when it takes it up at a later date. The change in appointment process for U.S. attorneys may have gone unnoticed if Gonzales and the White House had not fired eight U.S. attorneys, who had received positive evaluations last December.

Emails have been made public from both Justice Department and White House officials that lend credibility to the suspicion that the attorneys were fired for investigating Republicans. In my opinion, anytime an administration is able to act without oversight and supervision, it becomes only a matter of time before someone crosses the line and abuses their power. I don’t care if the administration is Democratic or Republican, unchecked power will lead to abuse. In the case of the Patriot Act, the 2005 change in the law opened the door for the potential abuse of power, and I think that is exactly what happened with the fired U.S. attorneys. Also I still believe that when the smoke clears, Alberto Gonzales will no longer be the U.S. Attorney General. Someone high up is going to lose their job over this scandal, and Gonzales is the most logical candidate to step down.

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics

Jason can also be heard every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse

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