U.S. Attorney General William Barr said the “law has broken down” in the hands of prosecutors and that DOJ heads, checked by the American people, should oversee these unelected prosecutors to uphold law and order in the nation.
The executive branch has virtually unchecked power in bringing charges, Barr noted. “That means discretion is vested in the executive to determine when to exercise prosecution power,” Barr said to a “legal-sized” crowd at Hillsdale College’s Constitution Day Celebration on Wednesday evening,
The only question is: When should the branch use its prosecutorial power? The answer is left in the hands of prosecutors who, according to Barr, prioritize cases that they “can get,” meaning win, instead of the most important ones to prosecute.
“Federal prosecutors possess tremendous power,” Barr said. “Power that is necessary to enforce our laws and punish wrongdoing…but power that carries inherent potential for abuse.”
Such abuse is commonplace and usually takes shape in politically targeted prosecutions, he said.
“I’d like to be able to say that we don’t see headhunting in the Department of Justice,” he said. “That would not be truthful. I see it every day.”
The power of prosecutors is immense—merely opening an investigation can ruin companies and lives, he said. Barr cited Arthur Andersen LLP as an example, once one of the “Big Five” accounting firms until it was all but ruined after its reputation took a massive hit from a guilty verdict in an auditing case. The guilty conviction was ultimately reversed by the Supreme Court in 2005 due to errors by the original trial judge, but the company never recovered, and neither did the tens of thousands of jobs it once provided.
This was a result of great power in the prosecution’s hands. And as a part of the bureaucracy, these prosecutors don’t face accountability for their actions, so they must be “carefully calibrated” and “carefully supervised” because, “left unchecked, it [prosecutorial discretion] has the power to inflict far more harm than it prevents,” Barr warned.
The most basic and essential check on this power, Barr argues, is political accountability.
“Political accountability, politics, is what ultimately ensures our system does its work fairly,” Barr said. “Government power completely divorced from political accountability is tyranny.”
Black Lives Matter Uses Americans as ‘Props’
Barr also remarked on pressing legal matters of the day, including coronavirus shutdowns and Black Lives Matter protests and riots blanketing the country this summer. Barr said the Black Lives Matter movement is “not interested in black lives.” He said the idea of black lives mattering is not debatable; of course they do. But, he said, the group itself doesn’t actually care about black lives, as evidenced by their own statements and behavior.
“They’re interested in props, a small number of blacks who are killed by police during conflicts with police — usually less than a dozen a year — who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda,” he said. Bar, instead views the priorities for black American lives as “not only keeping people alive, but also having prosperity and flourishing their communities.”
“Most deaths in the inner city of young black males below the age of 44…is being shot by another black person,” he noted. The left likes to talk about “root causes,” Barr said, hinting at claims of systemic racism. But all the political changes the BLM movement demands “depend on peaceful streets at the end of the day.”
Education, after-school activities, and other solutions to inner-city violence depend on peace, he said. Gangs can’t run schools, he noted. Instead, “the foundation of all human progress is the rule of law,” Barr said to a loud round of applause.
COVID Lockdowns ‘Treat Free Citizens as Babies’
Barr also spoke on the COVID lockdowns and the drastic effects from shutting states down.
“Putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” Barr told the crowd. Calling the lockdowns “draconian,” Barr slammed governors across the country who have shut their states down indefinitely, even as case counts drop.
“Most of the governors do what bureaucrats always do, which is… defy common sense,” Barr argued. “They treat free citizens as babies that can’t take responsibility for themselves and others.”
He stressed the importance of businesses across the country making their own decisions for safely operating, saying that governors have to “give business people an opportunity.”
“Let them try to adapt their business to that and you’ll have ingenuity and people will at least have the freedom to try to earn a living,” he said.
Appointed Officials Must Be Accountable to Elected Leaders
Barr flipped a common left-wing complaint about his tenure on its head. “William Barr, Trump’s Sword and Shield” and “How William Barr is Weaponizing the Justice Department to Help Trump Win” are just two recent headlines promoting this frequent attack against Barr’s Justice Department: it’s politicized and bent on helping President Trump win.
Of course, his role is political, as his decisions play a factor in whether he keeps his job, but this accountability forces good decisions to be made, Barr said. Political pressure is placed on the attorney general and senior DOJ officials, thus making them political, but “in a good and necessary sense,” he said.
“Because the attorney general is ultimately politically accountable for every decision that the department makes, I and my predecessors have had an obligation to ensure that we make the correct decision,” Barr said, calling his role in the DOJ similar to that of a supervisor.
Those in the Justice Department with ultimate authority are given that responsibility by elected officials. Those under him, career prosecutors, cannot have the final say in matters nor make hard decisions since they won’t face public repercussions for their decisions. Barr challenged the group to “name one successful company where the lowest members are deemed sacrosanct.” You can’t, he answered, except perhaps “in a Montessori preschool.”
For this reason, the attorney general is vital to a successful judiciary system. There is a reason there are 93 United States attorneys but only one attorney general: “The buck stops at the top,” Barr said.
Referencing the many accusations of “interference” by him and his team, Barr questioned the charge, as overseeing cases is the job of the attorney general. On the contrary, Barr said, his active engagement in cases is “essential to the rule of law.”
“We must strive for consistency, and that is yet another reason why centralized senior leadership exists to harmonize the disparate views of our many prosecutors in a consistent policy,” he said.
Relying on the attorney general for final decisions and uniformity allows for the rule of law to reign in the department, he argued. Barr cited former attorney general and Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson’s statement that even when “the government technically loses its case, it has really won if justice has been done.”
The attorney general’s speech met standing ovations and cheers from the audience.