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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Here's to You, Augustus Garland

As Senate Democrats discuss a potential vote of no confidence in Attorney General Gonzales, journalists and historians have been searching for historical parallels. Slate’s “Explainer” came up with a few Congressional votes of no confidence:

The vote of no confidence has rarely appeared in American history. In 1950 Congress passed such a vote with respect to Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who they said had not done enough to combat the spread of Communism… . In 1886, Republicans passed a resolution censuring then-AG Augustus Garland, who had refused to turn over executive papers relating to his dismissal of a U.S. attorney from the southern district of Alabama.

Wait a minute. Can we roll the tape on that last one again? An Attorney General who fired a U.S. attorney and then withheld documents on the firing from Congress? It’s deja vu all over again. Others, I’m sure, will have more to say about the parallels or lack thereof between Attorneys General Garland and Gonzales. But in the course of asuaging my curiosity about the 39th Attorney General, I came across a few more interesting facts about the man.

In Ex Parte Garland, 71 U.S. 333 (1867)—yes, that Garland—the Supreme Court held that a presidential pardon overrode a law conditioning practice before the federal courts on a loyalty oath. Garland, who had been in the Congress of “the so-called Confederate States” (in Justice Field’s phrase), couldn’t take an oath that he had, among other things, “never sought, accepted, or attempted to exercise the functions of any office whatsoever, under any authority, or pretended authority, in hostility to the United States.” He did, however, obtain a pardon from President Johnson, presented that pardon, and asked to be allowed to continue practicing. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in his favor. Ex Parte Garland, however, was only the second most dramatic Supreme Court case of Garland’s career. On January 26, 1899, while arguing before the Court, he suffered a stroke and died shortly thereafter.

Posted by James Grimmelmann on May 22, 2007 at 01:35 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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