A huge week looms for the Justice Department, but then again it's already been a remarkably busy and contentious summer for Attorney General Eric Holder and his legions of government lawyers. From Michigan to Arizona to Florida to California and nearly everywhere else in between, Justice officials have been forced in intemperate political conditions -- heat and humidity, and loads of hot air -- to try to put out brush fires that scorch all along the partisan legal divide, from immigration to health care to terror trials.
In the next day or so, for example, the feds will learn
whether U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton will declare unconstitutional and block the immediate enforcement of Arizona's controversial new immigration law. And no matter which side initially prevails in United States v. Arizona
, the losing side is likely to appeal Judge Bolton's ruling to the 9th Circuit and perhaps on up to the United States Supreme Court. Even though the justices are officially in summer recess, they may be heard from. All of this will likely occur between now and Thursday, July 29, the date upon which Arizona's measures are scheduled to go into effect.
If the feds are playing "offense" against Arizona they are surely playing defense against challenges to the new health care law
. All over the country, in dozens of lawsuits, federal lawyers have gone to court to try to save the new federal laws against all sorts of legal challenges brought both by state attorneys general and private citizens. Holder and Company are hoping for a quick knockout blow in these lawsuits: They hope to convince the federal judiciary that there is plenty of congressional power and authority, under several different constitutional provisions, to support the new measures. If the Justice Department loses these early battles, we'll surely see litigation up to and including 2014, the year in which many of the more controversial health care provisions are set to take effect. And even if the feds win early here such litigation may still be likely.
If the health care challenges were not enough, Justice faces continued, intense and complex litigation over the Interior Department's sloppy push to impose an oil drilling moratorium
-- six months -- in the Gulf of Mexico. The first time Justice lawyers went to court to defend the drilling ban the federal judge who presided over the hearing blasted the lawyers for the glaring weaknesses in the "client's" factual bases for the ban. Since then, and a lost round of appeals, the Interior Department has tried again to impose the ban. This ensures for the embattled Justice Department months more of courtroom combat for the Justice Department. No one six months ago could have foreseen this enormous legal jumble of cases and claims and controversies that have arisen in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
In the meantime, the Justice Department was wrestling internally with what to do about the lingering investigation into the U.S. attorney scandal of 2006-2007. That Holder ultimately -- some say, conveniently -- chose not to bring any charges
against Alberto Gonzales and the others implicated in the affair may have come as a relief to Republicans on Capitol Hill. But it clearly hasn't translated into much cooperation from those Republicans on the issue of the Obama administration's continuing response to the war on terror. Indeed, it's been a spring and summer of discontent and frustration -- in public, it looks like the spinning of wheels -- on the issue of the closure of the detainee prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and on the matter of where to try suspected terrorists.
Holder expressed some of this frustration a few weeks ago on CBS News' "Face The Nation" with Bob Schieffer. Nearly nine months after announcing that Al Qaeda chief Khalid Sheik Mohammed
, the 9/11 terror master plotter, would stand trial in federal civilian court in lower Manhattan, Holder was still struggling
to get the deal done.
"To have Republicans and Democrats arguing about this in a political way," Holder told Schieffer, "is something that I think is regrettable and has resulted, I think, in the delays that that we have seen. . . . Justice has been denied too long." It's not hard to see why Holder would have regrets over the latest delay. Had he been a more prescient politician he might have gotten New York's political leaders on board before making that fateful announcement.
And, finally, speaking of announcements, the Justice Department is waiting on the ruling on the fate of Proposition 8
, the initiative that Californians passed in 2008 banning same-sex marriage. U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker could rule any day on the constitutional challenge to Prop 8 and if, as widely expected, he strikes down the ban, the Justice Department will almost certainly have to interject itself in the high-profile case -- and prepare for a national battle over the morality play just in time for the hysteria of the midterm elections.
The states are in open revolt on health care and immigration. The Democratic base isn't happy
with the Justice Department because of its fiddle-faddling
of the torture inquiry and the U.S. attorney investigation
. Dozens of legal questions remain unanswered in terror law since Inauguration Day 2009. And the heat is expected to rise before it cools down again. The long, hot season of work and worry at Justice isn't likely to break soon. Lemonade, anyone?