If Michael Mukasey LAW ’67 is confirmed as the next attorney general of the United States, the halls of the Department of Justice could get much quieter.
The absence of embattled former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is only part of the reason. Several of Mukasey’s former Yale Law classmates describe him as a highly intelligent lawyer whose legal decisions speak louder than the man himself.
President George Bush ’68 nominated Mukasey on Monday to be the country’s most senior lawyer, and pundits reckon that the former federal judge’s confirmation will not meet too much opposition in the Senate. If confirmed, Mukasey will be the second Yalie to hold the position under the current administration, following in the steps of former Attorney General John Ashcroft ’64.
While Mukasey was not as well-known as his law school classmate Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, classmates said, he was a thoughtful and intellectual member of the community.
Terry Segal LAW ’67, who describes himself as a “liberal Democrat,” said Mukasey’s appointment was appropriate.
“He’s the type of person we need at this time,” Segal said. “I associate the words integrity, balance and judgment with him.”
Despite Mukasey’s quietness, he was well-liked, classmates said.
Simon Lazarus LAW ’67 said Mukasey’s sharp sense of humor was appreciated among his acquaintances.
“I remember him being very fast on the draw with the erudite wisecrack, which is a highly valued quality in law school,” Lazarus said.
Appointed to the federal judiciary by Ronald Reagan in 1987, Mukasey has worked in private practice in New York since he stepped down from the bench last year.
At the Law School — where Mukasey graduated in the star-studded 1967 class that, aside from Lieberman, also included the late Sen. Paul Tsongas and CBS senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield — students and faculty from across the political spectrum cheered the retired judge’s nomination on Tuesday.
Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh, who served in the Clinton administration as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said the Law School is proud of Mukasey’s accomplishments.
“Our Justice Department needs an Attorney General who has been a strong leader and a principled lawyer,” Koh said on Tuesday in a statement. “Judge Mukasey’s distinguished record as a fair and able judge well qualifies him for this task.”
Students praised Bush for declining to nominate a partisan operative in favor of a former prosecutor and federal judge who presided over several major terror trials and is noted for maintaining an independent streak in his jurisprudence. Mukasey, 66, spent 18 years as a judge in the Southern District of New York, the last six as chief judge.
“As a former prosecutor and federal judge, Michael Mukasey should bring respect for the rule of law back to the Attorney General’s Office,” said Anthony Vitarelli LAW ’09, a member of the Yale Law Democrats.
Stephen Vaden LAW ’08, the head of the Yale Law Republicans, agreed, noting the former judge’s experience with terror cases.
“Judge Mukasey appears to have the right credentials for the country’s present needs,” he said.
Unlike Gonzales, Mukasey is known for his long-standing support for judicial independence, Vaden said.
Sterling Professor of Law Bruce Ackerman LAW ’67, Mukasey’s classmate, told The Washington Post that Mukasey never appeared to have harbored political aspirations.
“He is not a glad-hand networker,” he said.
And while Mukasey does not have experience managing an organization the size of the Justice Department — which boasts more than 100,000 employees and a $20 billion budget — law professor Peter Schuck said the judge is a well-suited candidate for the nation’s top law enforcement job.
“Given Judge Mukasey’s legal and judicial experience, temperament, intelligence and reputation, he is superbly qualified,” he said in an e-mail.
Democrats and Republicans alike have reacted warmly to Mukasey, though some reports indicate that his confirmation might move slowly as Democrats demand the White House provide more details on the controversial firing of United States attorneys and the wiretapping program that was spearheaded by Gonzales.
The controversial former attorney general, a longtime Texas confidante of Bush, is a graduate of the Harvard Law School, something Vaden and other students poked fun at on Tuesday.
“I am particularly gratified that when the administration needed an attorney general to clean up the mess left at the Justice Department by an incompetent alumnus of the Harvard Law School, it chose a Yale Law alumnus to lead the effort,” Vaden said.