NEW YORK - The U.S. Senate has yet to approve the recent nomination of Michael Mukasey, a retired federal judge and Modern Orthodox Jew from New York, as a replacement for outgoing U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. His hearing with the Senate is scheduled for this week.
Irrespective of the hearing's outcome, Mukasey has already passed his public hearing with the Jewish community with flying colors. Secular and religious Jews and opinion shapers alike have over the past weeks expressed unreserved support for Mukasey's candidacy for the U.S. justice system's top executive officer.
As with every other year, Mukasey could be found this Yom Kippur at Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan's Upper East Side. At the synagogue, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein describes Mukasey as a veteran frequenter. "He hasn't missed a single prayer during the High Holidays," says Lookstein. "He might skip a prayer here and there, but he's a believer and a devout Jew."
It has been two weeks since U.S. President George Bush announced Mukasey as his candidate to replace Gonzales, who was forced to step down following accusations of illegitimate dismissals of federal prosecutors. Many in the Jewish community regarded the nomination as gift for the holidays, and leaders and opinion shapers are pouring out the compliments.
"Mukasey comes from a very well-respected Jewish family," said Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman's family immigrated to the U.S. from the same city in Ukraine as Mukasey's parents.
Lookstein, who was Mukasey's counselor at summer camp, says his former camper is "an honest, noble and humble man." Lookstein goes on to say that Mukasey is "first a good man, and only then a tzadik - a righteous person.
Mukasey, 66, graduated from Columbia University in 1963. He later received a degree in law from Yale. If his nomination is approved, Mukasey will become the second Jew in U.S. history to preside as attorney general.
The first Jewish attorney general, Edward Hirsch Levi, was appointed to the post is 1975, with the task of restoring the federal justice department's greatly diminished status following the Watergate affair.
Mukasey was appointed to the bench in 1987 by the late Republican president Ronald Reagan. He retired last year and opened a private law firm.
Jurists who commented on Mukasey's nomination almost unanimously praised him as a worthy candidate. Some of them pointed out that despite Mukasey's conservative beliefs, as a judge he never let his political inclinations inside the court room.
"He's not a social conservative, as far as I can tell, and that's important to our community," Marc Stern, legal director for the American Jewish Congress told The Jewish Week recently. "We have no idea what he thinks about civil rights, no idea about his positions on church-state issues. And we don't know much about what he thinks about abortion."
The New York Times, which tends to be suspicious of any Bush nomination, has so far published five articles in support of the nomination. It is therefore not surprising that the Senate is expected to approve Mukasey's nomination, after Democrat senators said they were in favor of the appointment.
The only potential hurdle in Mukasey's path could be his strong ties with Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani. It was Mukasey who swore in Giuliani as mayor of New York City in 1993. The ceremony was moved from its original date because of Mukasey's observance of Shabbat.
Over the weekend, the New York Times published an article saying that the administration had pledged to refrain from letting Mukasey handle any cases or matters connected to Giuliani.
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