Important Perks of a New Job

December 7th, 2007

It has been an established principle since the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1789 that the U.S. government can’t be sued. It’s an old rule called sovereign immunity that predates the U.S. by a long shot. It means, though, that if you don’t like something the government does and believe it is violating your rights, you have no legal recourse.

In many countries that would be the end of the story (and historically was). Fortunately some intrepid lawyers figured out how to get around that. Instead of suing the U.S. government itself, people decided to sue the person holding the job. The government indemnifies the person against claims, so there is no actual personal responsibility, but seeing one’s name frequently in the court docket is part and parcel of top-level federal government jobs.

Michael Mukasey was sworn in as U.S. Attorney General on November 8 of this year. I get a summary of significant court decisions every day, and in the last week or two I have started to see a bunch of cases reported under the headings “____ v. Mukasey”.

That didn’t take long, and I suppose points out what an elaborate fiction the whole thing is. The cases probably started years ago as “___ v. Ashcroft” or “_____ v. Gonzalez”, but got changed as the Attorney General position changed hands.

I am sure Mukasey was ready for it, and that kind of attention probably seemed ok compared to the scrutiny around his confirmation hearings. Still, it doesn’t seem like much fun to be sued 200 times a year.

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