Bybee ducks bullet

Justice Department lawyers have cleared former U.S. Justice Department lawyer Jay Bybee of torture-related charges in a report that originally called for bar discipline but was watered down by Justice Department official David Margolis.

That leaves impeachment and disbarment as routes for holding Bybee accountable for his legal opinions approving the use of torture by the Bush administration. He now holds a Nevada seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, though his ties to Nevada are tenuous, and he is not a member of the state bar.

U.S. House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers and U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chair of a Judiciary subcommittee, said they will convene hearings on the behavior of Bybee and John Yoo, another former Justice Department lawyer who helped enable torture. An impeachment would have to originate in the U.S. House.

Protests for impeachment were held at Ninth Circuit courthouses in Pasadena and San Francisco last month.

Among those who have called for Bybee’s impeachment are U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Jan Schakowsky, U.S. Sens. Russell Feingold and Patrick Leahy, the Salt Lake Tribune and New York Times, and Common Cause.

At a hearing after the Justice Department finding, Feingold said, “I am deeply troubled that one of the architects of this perversion of the law is now sitting on the federal bench. … Jay Bybee should step down from his lifetime appointment. I do not see how he can serve as a credible federal judge—someone who is supposed to be an independent decision-maker whose judgment and integrity are beyond question—under these circumstances. His name is now synonymous with an extreme legal analysis that has been repudiated by almost everyone except the few people involved in writing it.”