Montana Politics US Politics

Bill Mercer: Putting Politics Above the Law While Breaking It


While Bill Mercer has demonstrated a remarkable inability to find his way into a courtroom and prosecute cases, he certainly has a gift for finding his way into documentation of the incredible politicization of the Justice Department. While this is hard to imagine, Mercer uses politics and beliefs about wolves to reject one candidate. Demonstrating his keen sense of the law, Mercer was one person in the Justice Department dumb enough to do in email:

My initial reaction is that the guy is probably quite liberal.  He is clerking for a very activist, ATLA-oriented justice.14 His law review article appears to favor reintroduction of wolves on federal lands, a very controversial issue here which pits environmentalists against lots of other interests, including virtually all conservative and moderate thinkers.  I know of better candidates through our internship and clerkship programs who have applied to the honors program.

That is one delightful e-mail. Not only does he make a “gut reaction” about someone’s politics, Mercer offers his slightly skewed reasoning about wolf reintroduction as a rationale for his bias.  When confronted with his action, Mercer acted in the best tradition of Republican stonewalling, a combination of forgetfulness and dishonesty:

When we questioned Mercer about this e-mail, he said he did not recall being asked about this candidate, although he had a vague recollection of talking to the reference named in the candidate’s application about the candidate.  Mercer said he probably assumed that Hruska was asking about a candidate for a political appointment such as a special assistant, rather than for the Honors Program.  However, Mercer said he could not say why he referred to the Honors Program in his e-mail.  He said he understood in 2002 that while the candidates’ liberal affiliations would have been legitimate considerations for a political position, they would not have been legitimate considerations for an Honors Program position.

Finally, Mercer had one more important role in this effort to politicize the Justice Department: despite his role as Acting Associate Attorney General, Mercer did nothing, when told that hiring practices were being politicized. While this is a good long section of the report, starting on page 63, I think this is the most telling quote:

Keisler said that Mercer appeared to be unaware of much of this information but that he seemed to be paying close attention.

Let’s at least give him credit for listening, right? It’s just another example of the Bush Administration putting politics above the law, and knowing that they won’t face any real scrutiny or consequences for it, but at a deeper level, how do these repeated violations not undermine respect for rule of law in this country?

At least we’re protected from the wolves.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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