Bush Names Michael Chertoff Homeland Security Secretary

Jurist Picked to Lead Homeland Security (LAT – AP)
Bush Picks Ex-Prosecutor for Homeland Post (ABC News – AP)

President Bush has chosen federal appeals court judge Michael Chertoff to be his new Homeland Security chief, turning to a former federal prosecutor who helped craft the early war on terror strategy, The Associated Press has learned. Chertoff headed the Justice Department’s criminal division from 2001 to 2003, where he played a central role in the nation’s legal response to the Sept. 11 attacks, before the president named him to appeals court position in New Jersey. Bush was to formally announce Chertoff’s selection later at the White House, two government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The AP. Chertoff would replace Tom Ridge, the department’s first chief.

Chertoff, who rounds out Bush’s second-term Cabinet, was actually the president’s second pick for the job. Former New York City police chief Bernard Kerik withdrew as nominee last month, citing immigration problems with a family housekeeper. After failing to disclose the nanny problem during an initial screening, Kerik acknowledged it during a subsequent vetting phase as he filled out a clearance form.

The choice of a new homeland security chief completes a substantial makeover of the Bush team as the president awaits his swearing-in Jan. 20 for a new term. Donald H. Rumsfeld, John Snow and Norman Mineta have remained as secretaries of defense, treasury and transportation, but Bush has changed most other key agency positions.

I don’t know enough about Chertoff’s history to know how solid a choice he is. His résumé is fairly impressive–a Harvard Law grad and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. The latter is interesting, as Brennan was perhaps the most liberal justice on the court during the 1970s and 1980s.

His 2003 nomination to the Third Circuit was opposed by the Hard Left and Larry Klayman’s Judicial Watch, an odd combination. He ultimately sailed through without much difficulty, however, with Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy issuing a glowing joint statement.

Update (1419): Michelle Malkin terms the appointment “good news,” noting that he’s

She also points to Chernoff’s June 2004 WSJ op-ed explaining why the courts should be leery of intervening in national security affairs:

Some seem to regard intelligence, military, and police activities as having a zero-sum relationship with civil liberties. To be sure, one of America’s most cherished values is that individual liberty must be protected against the power of the state. History is full of persecutions of the harmless, particularly by governments. At the same time, we are fighting for survival against a dangerous enemy. We cannot forget that we are at war, one our enemy declares is a fight to the death. We can win it only if we do not force our forces to fight in a legal fog, constantly speculating and litigating piecemeal about what the law might be. A murky legal climate only obscures our options and hamstrings our forces.

The piece is well worth reading in its entirety. I agree with Chernoff that the elected branches are better suited for balancing the competing needs of security and liberty than the courts. At the same time, the judiciary is the ultimate guardian of our rights. Majorities may from time-to-time become willing to give up their liberties during times of perils, only to find it impossible to regain them during peacetime.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I agree with you and Michelle Malkin on what appears to be Chertoff’s qualifications. He has written an excellent article on “Law, Loyalty, and Terror,” (below)


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