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Kennedy on Nomination of Paul McNulty to Deputy Attorney General of Department of Justice

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I welcome Mr. McNulty to the Committee, I congratulate him on his nomination, and I commend him for his long career in public service.

The Deputy Attorney General is one of the most important positions in the federal government. It involves overseeing the day to day functions of the Department of Justice, implementing policies and regulations, and seeing that our criminal and civil laws are enforced in a fair and impartial manner.

The nomination comes at a time when many of us are concerned that the White House is abusing its power, excusing and authorizing torture, spying on American citizens and undermining the rights and liberties of our people.

Prisoner abuse by military personnel is an important concern. The images from Abu Ghraib horrified us, and severely damaged our reputation in the Middle East and around the world.

President Bush promised accountability. Yet the only prosecutions we've seen have been of low-level soldiers involved in the abuse. Only one C.I.A. official has been charged.

The administration authorized many of these harsh techniques at the highest levels, under a radical new definition of Presidential power. Mr. McNulty, as the Deputy Attorney General, will be called on to assess the legality of such actions. His views on the reach of the President's power will be very important, and very relevant for this hearing.

Congress and the American people deserve full and honest answers about the Administration's domestic electronic surveillance activities. There is no legitimate purpose in denying access by Members of Congress to all of the legal analysis that the President relied upon when he authorized these activities. Instead of providing us with the documents the Administration relied upon, the Justice Department continues to circulate summaries and "white papers" on the legal authorities it purports to have to ignore the law. It now appears that the President did so on at least thirty occasions after September 11th.

Next Monday, the Committee begins hearings on this issue, but the President continues to give press conferences rather than providing Congress with real information.

In 2001, the Administration sought a change to the law so that, in an emergency, they could wait 72 hours -- instead of 24 -- to notify a court about wiretapping activities. Now, the Administration claims that 72 hours is not enough, even though they asked for 72 hours in 2001.

The Administration has made a unilateral decision that Congressional and judicial oversight can be discarded, in spite of what the law obviously requires. This is about the fundamental values in our society -- credibility, candor, competency and compliance with the law. We need a thorough investigation of these activities. Congress and the American people deserve answers, and they deserve answers now.

The Department of Justice also plays a vital role in enforcing civil rights, and anyone confirmed to a leadership position in the Department must understand the importance of that role. The passing of Coretta Scott King reminds us of how much was sacrificed to make progress on the civil rights, and how much must still be done to achieve true equality.

When the Department fails to do its job effectively, civil rights enforcement suffers, because private plaintiffs lack the resources, the expertise, and often the information that would enable them to bring cases successfully.

Today, however, the Department seems to have abandoned its enforcement duties in some of the most important areas of civil rights. We're disturbed by recent reports that the Department's enforcement of the Voting Rights Act has become politicized, particularly in decisions on pre-clearance of changes in state voting laws under Section 5 of the Act. In the past five years, it has filed only one case involving a pattern or practice of job discrimination based on race or national origin. It's brought only 3 cases under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits denying or diluting the right to vote based on race, national origin, or language minority status -- none of which were brought on behalf of African Americans. The Appellate Section of the Civil Rights Division has filed very few amicus briefs defending civil rights in the federal courts of appeals. If confirmed, ensuring fair and non-political civil rights enforcement must be among Mr. McNulty's top priorities.

Another concern is the disturbing changes in the immigration court system. Most of the problem results from streamlining regulations that have impaired due process rights. Public criticism of immigration judges has increased by federal court judges.

Immigration decisions can have a profound impact on human lives. The interests at stake are significant, especially for asylum seekers, who may face persecution or even death. The Attorney General has asked the Deputy Attorney General to lead a comprehensive review of the immigration courts. I trust that if confirmed, Mr. McNulty will conduct a thorough review of the immigration courts and restore fairness and integrity in this important process.

I commend Mr. McNulty on his nomination and I look forward to his responses to these concerns.

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