By Gotcha Media | PoliticalWeasels.com | June 28, 2023
In the ever-evolving realm of the GOP presidential race, hopefuls are making bold pledges about their re-imagined plans to overhaul the Department of Justice (DOJ). Declarations range from a complete clean-up of senior-level staff in the DOJ and FBI to appointing a new FBI director on their first day in office, painting a picture of radical, unprecedented changes. However, the reality may be far less dramatic than their promises suggest.
Justice, Re-imagined, GOP Hopefuls, Bold Pledges
Senior Writer at "The Dispatch," David Drucker, explored the proposed overhauls of the DOJ, pointing out that these assertions, while appearing novel and extreme, are far from new. In fact, it is standard practice for every incoming President to make staffing changes at the DOJ, replacing senior personnel and their deputies, a process that usually involves hundreds of new appointments .
The Tradition of DOJ Senior Staff Changes
This "housecleaning" rhetoric, while not unique, does raise concerns, especially in light of former President Donald Trump's approach to the DOJ. Trump treated the department and its personnel, including his Attorney General, as if they were his personal attorneys, fostering concern over what he might do in a potential second term. However, Trump's attempts to influence the DOJ illustrated the limitations of presidential meddling, thanks to existing laws and regulations.
The Power of Prosecutorial Discretion in DOJ
The real power lies in prosecutorial discretion, which enables presidents and their attorneys general, deputies, and U.S. attorneys to choose which cases to bring forward and which to ignore. The ability to make these decisions can change with each administration, hence why GOP candidates' vows of sweeping out the old and ushering in the new might seem potent.
Despite this, any incoming group would still be constrained by existing laws. Plus, these sweeping changes are standard procedure whenever there's a shift in government control, be it a Republican or Democratic President. The "clean house" pledge is merely part of the changing of the guard and does not represent the radical overhaul that it's hyped up to be.
DOJ Civil Service Protections and Policy Decisions
Moreover, it's essential to remember that the proposed changes will be subject to public opinion. Americans may not agree with the prosecutorial or policy decisions made. However, from a constitutional perspective, these changes should not pose any significant issues, largely because career attorneys at the DOJ are protected by civil service law. Unless approved changes to civil service law are made by Congress, it's challenging to drastically alter the bureaucracy within the DOJ .
Lastly, many positions that turn over with each administration require Senate confirmation. This includes the role of the FBI director, which despite having a ten-year term, can be replaced by the President. However, career individuals will have the same civil service protections, and while laws can change, it's unlikely to happen without significant Senate support.
Conclusion: Separating Hype from Reality
Therefore, while the incoming administration can make changes, including moving civil service employees to new positions, wholesale gutting of the DOJ or FBI remains unlikely. So when evaluating the rhetoric of presidential hopefuls promising to shake things up in the DOJ, it's essential to separate the hype from reality. After all, changes will undoubtedly occur, but they will likely fall within the realm of prosecutorial discretion and policy decisions, rather than constituting a radical systemic overhaul.