The Senate Judiciary Committee has sent the nomination of William Barr to the full Senate for confirmation, which should come as no surprise to anyone. He’s a horrible choice for many reasons to those of us who favor the constitutional rights of the accused and challenge mass incarceration as the cure for whatever ails society. But that he possesses the qualifications to serve as Attorney General, even if he’s the worst possible choice, isn’t in serious dispute.
During Barr’s Senate confirmation hearings in January, Barr was asked whether he believed race and racism plays any role in the American criminal legal system. This should have been a softball question for the nominee. The evidence that racism has been a prevalent, pernicious and profound force within our system of justice is well known and well-documented.
And yet, the response from the presumptive attorney general — and former attorney general from 1991–1993 under then-President George H.W. Bush — was a swing and a miss. Rather than acknowledging the fact that black and Latinx people are disproportionately targeted and harmed by the criminal legal system, Barr answered as if the past three decades of increased surveillance, violent policing, bloated jails and prisons and ever-expanding criminal laws and mandatory sentencing schemes that have devastated communities and perpetuated social and economic instability never existed.
It’s not that these things aren’t, and haven’t, happened. It’s that there’s no distinction between cause and effect, correlation and causation. This may play to the willfully shallow, but it contributes nothing of value to either thought or solution. Then again, that’s not exactly a new problem among the identity politics crowd, for whom racial disparities are the most important thing, if not the only thing, wrong with the system.
But what does that have to do with fitness for the position? And why would anyone raise a question when Barr is such an awful choice for AG? Am I a closet Barr supporter? Hardly. But as with many of the judges appointed by Trump, it comes as no shock that his choice for AG is someone I find anathema. That’s how elections work, the guy who wins gets to pick someone he prefers rather than someone I prefer.
This may be the same case when, and if, the pendulum swings to the left. A highly qualified nominee, with whom conservatives vehemently disagree and find reprehensible, will be nominated. Some will challenge the nominee for the same reasons, that they don’t share their values, that they’re utterly, fundamentally, completely wrong about an article of faith. And they will, if things work the way they’re supposed to work, be unable to prevent the nominee’s confirmation.
Confirmation is not about whether the nominees share your values, feel your pain, hold your deepest feelings in highest esteem. It’s about qualifications, integrity and temperament. You might point out here that some nominees fail to meet these three qualifications, but that’s a different problem. That William Barr is not an adherent of identity politics may make him hated by social justice warriors, but doesn’t bear upon his qualifications for office.
Whether Barr’s response was due to a lack of understanding or interest, or a willful disregard for the truth, it should be disqualifying. In the 30 or so years since Barr’s last tenure as attorney general, the tentacles of the criminal justice system have damaged nearly every aspect of American society. Mass incarceration is vast and deeply racist, all while failing to achieve its purported goal of reducing crime or improving public safety. He should know better.
This belief, that racism is at the core of all that’s wrong with the criminal justice system, is certainly widespread, particularly among a certain cohort of simplistic identitarians, for whom anyone who fails to share their faith is morally corrupt. They’re allowed to believe, even if they refuse that courtesy to anyone who doesn’t. But what they are not entitled to do is conflate their hatred of heretics with qualifications.
It’s entirely reasonable, if not laudable, to find William Barr to be a terrible choice for Attorney General. I do. But it’s not because he’s unqualified. To conflate qualifications with values is not merely ignorant and dishonest, but dangerous. That’s how we end up with a president named Trump, whose lack of qualifications for the office was ignored in favor of his putative values.
And lest it go unnoticed, the assumption by SJWs that they’re the majority of Americans, and so will rule the nation with their ironclad identitarian dictates any day now may be unduly optimistic. I wish the Senate would refuse to confirm William Barr, not because he is unfit for office but because I think he’s a particularly terrible choice. But then, I’m neither president nor a senator.