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Good riddance, Gonzales

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Alberto Gonzales has left the building. Someone rescue the Constitution from the paper shredder.

Although Gonzales seems to have forgotten his actions as White House counsel and attorney general, the rest of us don't suffer from such convenient amnesia. He advised the Bush administration to deny legal counsel to Guantanamo Bay detainees, most of whom had not been charged with a crime. He described the Geneva Conventions banning torture as "quaint." Yes, quaint, as in, pleasingly or strikingly old-fashioned or unfamiliar, like your grandma calling the refrigerator an "icebox."

He refused to compel Vice President Dick Cheney to disclose to the Government Accountability Office, the investigational arm of Congress, details of meetings Tricky Dick held with his oil company confidants to craft the United States' pro-industry energy policy. (Coincidentally, Enron and Halliburton were clients of Gonzales' former law firm, Vinson & Elkins.) He defended the National Security Agency's secret domestic wiretapping plan, even storming a hospital room to pry an approval for the plot from the lips of the heavily sedated, then-AG John Ashcroft, who lay on his near-deathbed. (Ashcroft, no champion of the Constitution, still knew better, even doped up on painkillers.) And most recently, Gonzales executed the politically motivated U.S. attorney firings, although apparently in his sleep, because he remembers none of it.

However, the rejoicing over the attorney general's resignation is muted by the realization that President George W. Bush is still in office. (Bush's next nominee, a friend of mine said, "will probably be some criminal from the Nixon administration." G. Gordon Liddy, are you out there?)

So we should be careful what we wish for: When Ashcroft resigned as AG in 2004, it was hard to imagine a worse successor. Yet Bush dredged the river bottom of his Texas cronies and nominated Gonzales, who was confirmed by a 60-36 vote. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's name has already been floated as a possible nominee; a former U.S. attorney, Chertoff was among the main architects of the PATRIOT Act. If he's confirmed, we may as well elevate the constitutional terror alert level to red and leave it there until January 2009.

So it's up to Senate Democrats to hold their ground and defend the Constitution in confirming the next attorney general. Unfortunately for North Carolinians, we can't rely on U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole or Richard Burr for good sense—they both voted to confirm Gonzales. But now's the time for the Senate to defiantly refuse to confirm another Bush disciple who will obfuscate and obstruct justice for the next 16 months.

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