A society is in serious trouble when its political pariahs have at the core of their demands a return to the rule of law. This inversion, with our political and cultural outcasts demanding a respect for law, highlights the awful fact that the most radical and retrograde forces within the body politic have seized control. – Chris Hedges
In 2005, Michael Greco, the President of the American Bar Association, decided he had to come to the defense of the rule of law in the US. A variety of Bush administration practices, such as signing statements, struck Greco as dangerous transgressions against the constitution, and he commissioned three research reports on the subject from groups of ABA specialists who had deep experience working within the executive branch, including the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the Justice Department. Each report identified serious violations of the constitution, and expressed alarm at the gravity of the consequences should they go unchecked. Greco made the reports public, and delivered them to the White House, only to be met with silence from the media and the political establishment.The rule of law, it seems, was no longer a concern to the US establishment, even when the legal profession’s umbrella association was weighing in with stern warnings.
However indifferent the establishment may have become to the rule of law by 2005, a large proportion of American citizens were not willing to tolerate brazen illegality at the top.Indignation at the Bush administration’s disregard for the law played a significant role in delivering the Presidency and majorities in both chambers of Congress by 2008. President Obama’s own background as a one-time teacher of constitutional law conditioned optimism that his administration would honor the rule of law, and would hold many Bush administration officials accountable for their transgressions. Such was the spirit of 2008.
Alas, Obama moved to temper expectations for justice as soon as he assumed office, famously declaring his preference for “moving forward” rather than dredging up the sins of the just concluded Bush administration. Obama’s policy made quite an impression, given the scale of the crimes—which included launching a war of aggression in Iraq on false pretenses, the systematic use of torture on prisoners, and the widespread orchestration of federal prosecutions for partisan (Republican Party) political purposes. The implications of non-prosecution are momentous, of course. It serves to establish the practices of the Bush administration in precedent, and leaves such practices available to future administrations.