The Upcoming Pardon Wave: Bring on the Disbarments!

To the surprise of exactly no one, in light of the torture scandal, the warrantless wiretapping scandal, the US Attorneys scandal, the Valerie Plame scandal, and the (fill in blank) scandal, conservative lawyers are pushing the Bush Administration for dozens of pardons for administration officials. Some of us, of course, predicted this months and even years ago (well, okay–a year and a half ago).

I believe that Bush will grant the pardons, including one to Cheney. Instead, at this stage the real question is whether the relevant Bar Associations going to move ahead by disbarring the lawyers involved in all of this. Candidate Number One is Addington. Number Two is Gonzales. Number Three is Yoo (although in Yoo’s case, it’s not actually clear whether he is a member of a Bar: he is not listed as a member in either California or DC. His home state is Pennsylvania, which does not appear to allow on-line access for non-members).

It’s far from clear that this would be real sanction: Richard Nixon was disbarred, as was Bill Clinton, and it didn’t hurt their careers. Gordon Liddy was disbarred, and he is now a conservative saint. But somehow I don’t see most of the Bushies as talk show hosts. For Addington, or Gonzales, or Judge Jay Bybee of the Ninth Circuit, or William Haynes, it could be a real hit. These men make their living as lawyers. On the other hand, I’m sure that some conservative think tank will give them a posh sinecure for their failure.

And just to keep things clear: even a Presidential pardon will not keep any of these guys free from international criminal indictment. Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, had it right:

Haynes, Feith, Yoo, Bybee, Gonzales and – at the apex – Addington, should never travel outside the US, except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel. They broke the law; they violated their professional ethical code. In future, some government may build the case necessary to prosecute them in a foreign court, or in an international court.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.