Jus­tice’s Holy Hires

The Washington Post Sunday - - Outlook - By Dahlia Lithwick

IMonica Goodling had a prob­lem. As se­nior coun­sel to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Al­berto R. Gon­za­les and Jus­tice De­part­ment li­ai­son to the White House, she no longer seemed to know what the truth was. She also must have been in­creas­ingly un­clear about who her su­pe­ri­ors were. This didn’t used to be a prob­lem for Goodling. Ev­ery­thing was once very cer­tain: Her boss’s truth was al­ways the same as God’s truth. Her boss was al­ways ei­ther God or one of His staffers.

Last week, through coun­sel, Goodling again re­fused to tes­tify about her role in the fir­ings of sev­eral U.S. at­tor­neys for what ap­pear to be par­ti­san rea­sons. As­sert­ing her Fifth Amend­ment priv­i­lege against self-in­crim­i­na­tion, she some­how thought she might be on the hook for crim­i­nal ob­struc­tion. Then on Fri­day, she re­signed, giv­ing no rea­son.

A 1995 grad­u­ate of Mes­siah Col­lege, an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian school, and a 1999 grad­u­ate of Pat Robert­son’s Re­gent Univer­sity Law School, Goodling is an im­prob­a­ble char­ac­ter for a po­lit­i­cal scan­dal. Her chief claim to pro­fes­sional fame ap­pears to have been loy­alty to the pres­i­dent and to the process of re­shap­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment in his im­age (and, thus, His im­age). A for­mer ca­reer of­fi­cial there told The Wash­ing­ton Post that Goodling “forced many very tal­ented ca­reer peo­ple out of main Jus­tice so she could re­place them with ju­nior peo­ple that were ei­ther loyal to the ad­min­is­tra­tion or would score her some points.” And as she rose at Jus­tice, a for­mer class­mate said, Goodling “de­vel­oped a very pos­i­tive rep­u­ta­tion for peo­ple com­ing from Chris­tian schools into Wash­ing­ton look­ing for em­ploy­ment in gov­ern­ment, al­ways ready to of­fer en­cour­age­ment and be a sound­ing board.”

Start dig­ging, and Goodling also looks to be the For­rest Gump of no com­ments: Here she is in 1997 field­ing calls from re­porters to the ad­mis­sions of­fice of Re­gent’s School of Gov­ern­ment. Asked whether nonChris­tians were ad­mit­ted, she ex­plained that “we ad­mit all stu­dents with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion. We are a Chris­tian in­sti­tu­tion; it is as­sumed that ev­ery­one in the classes are Chris­tians.” Here, in 2004, she’s an­swer­ing calls at the Jus­tice De­part­ment about whether then­Deputy So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Paul D. Cle­ment knew about the abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison when he told the Supreme Court that the United States does not tor­ture. Said Goodling, in lieu of tak­ing the Fifth: “We wouldn’t have any com­ment.”

Goodling is one of 150 grad­u­ates of Re­gent Univer­sity who have served in this ad­min­is­tra­tion, as Re­gent’s Web site proudly pro­claims. Pretty im­pres­sive for a 29-year-old school. The univer­sity says that “ap­prox­i­mately one out of ev­ery six Re­gent alumni is em­ployed in some form of gov­ern­ment work.” And that’s pre­cisely what its founder de­sired. The school’s motto is “Chris­tian Lead­er­ship to Change the World.” For­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral John Ashcroft teaches at Re­gent, and grad­u­ates have ob­tained se­nior po­si­tions in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. The ex­press goal is not only to tear down the wall be­tween church and state in Amer­ica but also to en­mesh the two.

Jef­frey A. Brauch, the law school’s dean, urges that stu­dents re­flect upon “the crit­i­cal role the Chris­tian faith should play in our le­gal sys­tem.” Ja­son Eige (Class of ’99), se­nior as­sis­tant to Vir­ginia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bob McDonnell, puts it pithily in the alumni news­let­ter: “Your Ré­sumé Is God’s In­stru­ment.”

This le­gal world­view meshed per­fectly with that of Ashcroft — a de­vout Pen­te­costal who for­bade use of the word “pride,” as well as the phrase “no higher call­ing than pub­lic ser­vice,” on doc­u­ments bear­ing his sig­na­ture. No sur­prise that, as he be­gan trans­form­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment, the Goodlings looked good to him.

One of Ashcroft’s most pro­found changes was to the Civil Rights Di­vi­sion, started in 1957 to fight racial dis­crim­i­na­tion in vot­ing. Un­der Ashcroft, ca­reer lawyers were sys­tem­at­i­cally fired or forced out and re­placed by mem­bers of con­ser­va­tive or Chris­tian groups or folks with no civil rights ex­pe­ri­ence. In the five years af­ter 2001, the Civil Rights Di­vi­sion brought no vot­ing cases — and only one em­ploy­ment case — on be­half of an African Amer­i­can. In­stead, the di­vi­sion took up the “civil rights” abuses of re­verse dis­crim­i­na­tion — claims of voter fraud or dis­crim­i­na­tion against Chris­tians. On Feb. 20, Gon­za­les an­nounced a new ini­tia­tive called the First Free­dom Project to carry out “even greater en­force­ment of re­li­gious rights for all Amer­i­cans.” In his view, the fight for a stu­dent’s right to read a Bi­ble in school is as ur­gent as the right to vote.

We may agree or dis­agree on that propo­si­tion, but it cer­tainly ex­plains how Goodling came to con­fuse work­ing to ad­vance Gon­za­les’s agenda with work­ing to ad­vance God’s. But while God may well want more prayer in pub­lic schools, it’s not clear that He wanted David Igle­sias fired on a pre­text. s there any­thing wrong with le­gal schol­ar­ship from a Chris­tian per­spec­tive? Not that I see. Is there any­thing wrong with a Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion that dis­pro­por­tion­ately uses grad­u­ates from Chris­tian law schools to fill its staffing needs? Not that I see. It’s a short­hand, no bet­ter or worse than cherry-pick­ing the Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety or the Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion. I can’t even get ex­er­cised over the fact that Gon­za­les, Karl Rove and Harriet Miers had their baby lawyers mak­ing crit­i­cal staffing de­ci­sions. The baby lawyers had ex­tremely clear march­ing or­ders.

No, the real con­cern here is that Goodling and her ilk some­how be­gan to con­flate God’s work with the pres­i­dent’s. Prob­a­bly not a les­son she learned in law school. The dream of Re­gent and its coun­ter­parts, such as Jerry Fal­well’s Lib­erty Univer­sity, is to re­dress per­ceived wrongs to Chris­tians, to re­claim the pub­lic square and re­assert Chris­tian po­lit­i­cal author­ity. And while that may have been a part of the Bush/Rove plan, it was only a small part. Their real zeal was for earthly power. And Goodling was left hold­ing the earthly bag.

In the end, Goodling and the other young foot sol­diers for God may sim­ply have run afoul of the first rule of pol­i­tics, cod­i­fied in Psalm 146: “Put not your trust in princes, in mere mor­tals in whom there is no help.”

dahlia.lithwick@hot­mail.com

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