Democratic Presidential Candidates Attack Gonzales, Supreme Court

Sunday, July 15th 2007, 4:56 pm
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Democrats running for president used a national meeting of trial lawyers on Sunday to attack other lawyers, pillorying Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and ridiculing recent decisions by the conservative-tilting Supreme Court.

``We want a president who will defend civil justice but we have one who is only listening to Alberto Gonzales justice,'' Illinois Sen. Barack Obama said at a presidential forum sponsored by the American Association for Justice, the trial lawyers group.

``We've got to have a different kind of attitude in this White House, one that respects the rule of law and recognizes that that is the essential tradition that has separated this country from so many others,'' Obama said.

Obama's rivals Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Joe Biden also were there, but the candidates didn't share the stage at a downtown hotel. Each spoke separately for about 20 minutes and answered questions read by a host.

The Democratic-controlled Congress has been examining whether the White House exerted undue political influence in the firings of several federal prosecutors who were overseeing corruption investigations of political candidates before the November 2006 elections.

The dispute, which is threatening to blossom into a constitutional showdown over executive power, has also branched. It now covers Gonzales' leadership as well as whether the Bush administration overreached in its warrantless wiretapping program by not getting court approval first. Gonzales is a former White House counsel.

If elected, New Mexico Gov. Richardson said his Justice Department would be free of White House influence when it prosecutes cases.

``I will appoint someone who I will direct and say: 'You will be an attorney general for the people. I don't want to even see you talking to the political arm of the White House staff,''' said Richardson, the only non-lawyer in the group.

Obama also took a shot at President Bush for commuting the sentence of former White House aide I. Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby, who was convicted of obstructing justice in a federal probe into the leak of a CIA agent's identity.

``People are tired of Scooter Libby justice,'' he said.

Another favorite target was the Supreme Court led by Bush-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts.

Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina and vice presidential nominee, said civil rights, along with the rights of workers and women, are at stake under the Roberts court.

``They're eating away at the fabric of America, of who we are and what we are,'' he said.

He lambasted the court's recent 5-4 decision to strike down school integration plans in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, saying it ``turned Brown vs. Board of Education on its head.''

Brown is the landmark court ruling that ended state-sponsored school segregation. The court's recent ruling does not affect several hundred other public school districts that remain under federal court order to desegregate.

Clinton, the New York senator, got raucous applause when she reminded the crowd that she voted against Bush appointees Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

``At the time, I warned in my speeches on the floor that especially with Justice Alito _ he had been so willing to side with big business against nearly anyone on any issue during his judicial career _ that if given the opportunity to serve on the Supreme Court he could become part of a majority that began to undo years of precedent,'' she said.

Richardson gave a near-failing grade to the Supreme Court.

The Democrats also piled on Bush, renewing their calls for an end to the war in Iraq.

``The next president is going to have to end this God-awful debacle in Iraq without mortgaging our future in the region for a generation or more and immediately turn to other hot spots in the world before they explode into new wars,'' Biden, a senator from Delaware, said.

Clinton labeled the Bush presidency a ``dangerous experiment in extremism.''

``I would argue that his is the most radical presidency we've ever had in our country's history,'' she said.

Attorney Diane Fenner of Philadelphia appreciated the chance to hear from the presidential hopefuls and said each was qualified to do the job.

``I thought they all had a grasp of the fundamental issues that are important to me,'' she said.