Editor’s note: Below is an op-ed written jointly by Molly Greathead and her grandfather Robert M. Pennoyer. Pennoyer, now in his 90s, has a seasoned legal career dating back to the Eisenhower administration, with experiences including serving as assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and in the office of the Secretary of Defense. Greathead is just one year out of law school and currently serving as a Dorot Fellow at Alliance for Justice, a national association that advocates for fairness in our courts.
On Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr will testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Barr has spent the last 17 months undermining the Justice Department’s independence and enabling our morally bankrupt president. His recent order to violently disperse peaceful demonstrators legally protesting the murder of George Floyd in front of the White House is just his latest act of oppressing the very people whose rights he is charged with protecting.
We write as a grandfather and granddaughter, nonagenarian and millennial, and as two lawyers to join the cacophony of voices calling for Barr’s removal.
Likewise, we urge the House Judiciary Committee to focus its upcoming hearing around Barr’s attempts to use the immense power of the Justice Department to protect Trump’s friends, including by asking the court to end the prosecution of Michael Flynn and trying to remove the top prosecutor in Manhattan, who was in charge of several investigations into Trump’s close associates.
While Barr has taken countless actions that would justify his removal, we urge lawmakers to scrutinize these most recent abuses of power, as they exemplify his corrupt approach to running the Justice Department.
One of us, Molly, is just starting her legal career at the Alliance for Justice. The other, Bob, was admitted to the bar in 1950 after fighting in World War II for the very ideals that are now at stake. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York under Eisenhower and has spent the last seventy years advocating for civil rights, racial justice, and reproductive rights.
Together, we represent two generations of lawyers who are deeply concerned about the damage Barr is doing to the Justice Department and to our country.
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A new report by the Alliance for Justice details the litany of abuses perpetrated by Barr. He has taken unprecedented actions to undermine the rule of law, dismantled procedures that ensure the Justice Department’s independence and eroded critical rights and protections for minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and more.
While he would never openly claim to be a proponent of fascism, what he is doing looks quite a bit like the definition of “a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control.”
With seven decades of professional experience separating us, we stand at opposite ends of our careers and bring different perspectives to the events currently unfolding.
Two Generations “Join the Cacophony of Voices Calling for Barr’s Removal”
Bob came of age as fascism threatened to dominate the world, and Americans were largely united against a common enemy. His experience during World War II, stationed on a naval ship in the Pacific that was heavily damaged at Iwo Jima, led him to law school and then to a career in government service.
Among other efforts to combat injustice and abuses of power, while serving as assistant general counsel to the Secretary of Defense under Eisenhower, he defied Senator McCarthy during contentious hearings before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, instructing Pentagon witnesses to take the executive privilege and refuse to answer his questions.
Molly has grown up in a more fractured era for the country that has also seen the erosion of its democratic values. Following September 11, the Justice Department denigrated our constitutional ideals by legalizing torture. In the ensuing years, the divisions in our country have become intractable. Young people in America today, who have known only the profound polarization of the post-9/11 world, are rightly dismayed by the state of our democracy.
While Bob’s generation fought against fascism abroad, Molly’s generation faces a similar struggle at home. Instead of joining the military to fight the Axis powers, we take to the streets to protest racial injustice, and the encroaching tyranny of our own government and its militarized law enforcement. Rather than feel camaraderie with our fellow citizens, we have splintered into seemingly irreconcilable factions that see the other side as an existential threat to the country.
These rifts have been fomented by a president who has engendered domestic chaos as a political strategy while befriending dictators—and by his enforcer, Attorney General Barr, who converts his midnight tweets into action.
We are encouraged by the activism of people across the country, young and old, who have risen to the occasion, and committed themselves to advancing the cause of justice at a time when our democracy has never felt so fragile.
In this spirit of liberty, we write to add our voices to the widespread calls for Attorney General Barr’s removal. Believers in democracy joined forces and prevailed against fascism in World War Two; we must not fail now within the deeply divided United States.
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