WashPost Op-ed: “Think Michael Whitaker Is a Hack? He’s One of Many”

Here’s my Washington Post op-ed on crony Attorneys General over the past century:


Some suggest Matthew G. Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general is unprecedented. It is likely unconstitutional, but, unfortunately, it is not new. After about 150 years of mostly professional attorneys general, a long line of insiders, hacks, cronies and fixers has occupied the office for much of the past century, and has too often damaged the rule of law.

President Trump’s appointment of Whitaker is a steep drop off a slippery slope of corruption. It’s time to make the Justice Department more structurally independent from presidents and their meddling.

Unfortunately, there are even precedents for presidents appointing crony attorneys general as protection from investigation…

This op-ed proposes reforms to check the Attorney General with independent commissioners and a formally independent Office of Legal Counsel. The model borrows from independent agencies like the Fed and the SEC, but balances independence with enough presidential control and political accountability.

For more, see my earlier post and draft paper.

And it connects with this project on state prosecutors, mass incarceration (building on my colleague John Pfaff and “Locked In”) and my book project, “rise of the prosecutor politicians.”

Author: Jed Shugerman

Legal historian at Fordham Law School, teaching Torts, Administrative Law, and Constitutional History. JD/PhD in History, Yale. Red Sox and Celtics fan, youth soccer coach. Author of "The People's Courts: Pursuing Judicial Independence in America" (2012) on the rise of judicial elections in America. I filed an amicus brief in the Emoluments litigation against Trump along with a great team of historians. I'm working on "The Rise of the Prosecutor Politicians," a history of prosecutors and political ambition (a cause of mass incarceration), and "The Imaginary Unitary Executive," on the myths and history of presidential power in America.

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