Secretary of Department of Homeland Security
Highlights & Quotes
Web location: http://rightweb.irconline.org/ind/chertoff/chertoff.php
Editor: Tom Barry
Research: Chellee Chase-Saiz
Production: Tonya Cannariato
Michael Chertoff, a rabbi’s son from northern New Jersey, is widely respected for his razor-sharp mind and fearsome courtroom demeanor. While at Harvard Law School, he was a classmate of Scott Turow, whose semi-fictional memoir about law school, One L, was based in part on his memories of Chertoff’s brutal yet incisive manner of legal argument. (1)
A political partisan, Chertoff became special counsel to the Whitewater Commission established in 1994 by the Republican-majority Congress to investigate the involvement of Bill and Hilary Clinton in real estate deals in Arkansas and other business deals. Now widely regarded as a political witch hunt spearheaded by Sen. Alfonse D”Amato (R-NY) and Independent Counselor Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater Commission spent $40 million on the investigation that ultimately failed to find that the Clintons had done anything illegal.
Chertoff is a longtime member and activist in the Federalist Society. This national association of right-wing lawyers and judicial reform activists is dedicated to realigning the countrx’s legal system to reflect a more conservative interpretation of the Constitution. The Federalist Society, which since its founding in 1982 has been closely linked to the neoconservative political camp, aims to rid the system of liberal judges and stamp out what it sees are its overly egalitarian and secular impulses. Association members believe that the Constitution and the countrx’s laws should primarily serve to ensure order and social orthodoxy rather than democracy and human rights.
As U.S. Attorney General in New Jersey, appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, Chertoff gained the reputation as a political attack dog for the Republican Party. Leveraging his strong political base in New Jersey, Chertoff served as financial vice-chair of Bush’s 2000 campaign in the Garden State. (2)
Chertoff was Bush’s second nominee to head Homeland Security, following the failed nomination of former New York City police chief Bernie Kerik, who admitted that he neglected to pay taxes for the “illegal immigrant? nanny he employed. Chertoff himself has a less-than-stellar record on immigration issues.
During his short stint as federal appeals court judge in the 3 rd Court District, Chertoff demonstrated his generally dismissive attitude toward asylum claims–ruling against immigrants in 14 of 18 immigration cases. In one case, he denied asylum to a Bangladeshi man who was imprisoned, severely beaten in jail, and forced to denounce his dissident political party. Despite his requiring 19 days of medical care after his release, Chertoff denied asylum on the grounds that the treatment didn’t constitute torture. (3) Chertoff also overruled a lower-court immigration judge’s decision to question the credibility of the asylum petition of a Chinese man who was seeking refuge because his wife was involuntarily sterilized.
As the architect of the post-September 11th initiatives on the domestic war on terror, Chertoff supervised the round-up of 750 Arabs and other Muslims on suspicion of immigration violations. Treated as suspected terrorist sympathizers or material witnesses, the “suspects? were held without bond for as long as three months, often in solitary confinement, despite having never been charged with any crime. Eventually, most were released or deported after secret tribunals.
In a 2003 report, the Justice Department’s Inspector General criticized these draconian measures as “indiscriminate and haphazard.” The report also concluded that Chertoff and other top government officials had instituted a “hold until clear? policy for immigrant detainees even though immigration officials questioned the policx’s legality. In his book After, author Steven Brill describes how Chertoff obstructed access by the post-9/11 detainees to lawyers, reasoning that they “could be questioned without lawyers present because they were not being charged with any crime.”
Not one of the almost exclusively Muslim “detainees? was indicted for terrorism-related crimes. Chertoff, who also coordinated the aggressive questioning of more than 5,000 Arab Americans immediately after the 9/11 attacks, remains unapologetic and continues to argue that the “war on terrorism? justifies the government’s right to hold suspects indefinitely without counsel as possible “enemy combatants.” (4)
“A look at Chertoff’s strong, aggressive record and statements on homeland security shows that Chertoff supports the kind of hard-headed, threat profiling measures and immigration enforcement opposed by the anti-profiling zealots,” wrote Michelle Malkin, author of Invasion: How America Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores and In Defense of Internment. (5)
Writing in the Weekly Standard in December 2003, Chertoff defended himself and the Justice Department against charges that the Bush administration had gone beyond the historical precedents in its determination of what is permissible under the U.S. Constitution. According to Chertoff, President Bush has “avoided the kind of harsh measures common in previous wars.”
Although engaged in a war with both domestic and international fronts, the president has not authorized “evacuation or preventive detention of American citizens based on ethnic heritage.” Nor has there been any “government suppression of dissent or criticism,” wrote Chertoff, adding that unlike such respected predecessors as John Adams or Woodrow Wilson, Bush “has not prosecuted those who argue against the administration, nor has the government seized newspapers or banned them from the mails, as Lincoln did.”
Concerning the detention of “enemy combatants,” Chertoff argued that the Bush administration followed “customary and well-accepted practice of incapacitating enemy soldiers overseas.” Regarding such matters as deciding “how long combatants can be held when we are fighting a war of extended or indefinite duration,” Chertoff said we must “think outside the box but not outside the Constitution.” (6)
In a June 2004 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Chertoff wrote that we cannot win the war against terrorism if we “fight in a legal fog, constantly speculating and litigating piecemeal about what the law might be. A murky legal climate only obscures our options and hamstrings our forces.”
What about the role of the U.S. military or the CIA in home-front operations? Chertoff, writing as an appeals court judge, said: “Basic policy questions like this cannot be simply left to the judiciary.” (7)
Chertoff believes that it is time for “the most creative legal thinking? about the role of the U.S. justice system in “fighting a war of extended duration.” According to Chertoff, “We are at a transition point in the evolution of legal doctrine to govern the armed conflict of terror.” (8)
(1) John Mintz, “Nominee Criticized Over Post-9/11 Policies,” Washington Post, January 12, 2005.
(2) Doug Ireland, “Mike Chertoff’s Dirty Little Secrets,” LA Weekly, January 12, 2005, at: http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2005/01/mike_chertoffs_.html
(3) "Michael Chertoff," U.S. Department of Legal Justice, Office of Legal Policy
(4) "Michael Chertoff," Independent Judiciary, nd.
(5) Michelle Malkin, “About Michael Chertoff,” at: http://michellemalkin.com/archives/001203.htm
(6) Michael Chertoff, “Law, Loyalty, and Terror–Our Legal Response to the post-9/11 World,” Weekly Standard, December 1, 2003, at: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/003/419jwsgm.asp?pg=2
(7) Michael Chertoff, “Why the Ball is in Our Court,” Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2004, at: http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110005241
(8) Michael Chertoff, “Law, Loyalty, and Terror–Our Legal Response to the post-9/11 World,” Weekly Standard, December 1, 2003.
Recommended citation: "Michael Chertoff," Right Web Profiles (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, February 2005).
Further information on Michael Chertoff:
From the New Jersey Law Journal, August 4, 2003:
“The Sept. 11 investigation was supervised by Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, head of the U.S. Criminal Justice Division, who is now a Third Circuit judge.”
More on Chertoff from the New Yorker, November 5, 2001:
“Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, Chertoff’s office has become the funnel for what is probably the most important criminal investigation in American history, as prosecutors and F.B.I. investigators pour in to seek the boss’s approval. What leads can we use from the search of a hijacker’s car in Portland, Maine? Where do the hijackers? credit-card records lead”? For day-to-day decisions, Chertoff has the last word”?
NEW JERSEY JEWISH NEWS
Congregants laud the rabbis in homeland nominee’s past
by Johanna Ginsberg
NJJN Staff Writer
Michael Chertoff, President Bush’s nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security, grew up in Elizabeth surrounded by scholarship and compassion, according to former congregants of his father, Rabbi Gershon Chertoff, of the former Congregation Bnai Israel in Elizabeth, and students of his grandfather, Rabbi Paul Chertoff, a Talmud professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary for over 40 years.
At Congregation B?nai Israel in Millburn, which merged with the Elizabeth synagogue in 1992, former congregants recall Gershon Chertoff, ordained in 1941, as a particularly intellectual rabbi who had equal parts compassion and understanding. Born in 1915, he died in 1996.
One recent Shabbat morning, Joe Keselman, 76, of Springfield, who was a member of the congregation 20 years before it merged with the Millburn synagogue, recalled Rabbi Chertoff as “very intellectual.
“He had an enormous personal library. He gave very good sermons and was particularly passionate about politics,” he told NJ Jewish News.
Mona Hirschberg, 78, of Elizabeth, whose grandparents were members of the Elizabeth synagogue and who attended Hebrew school there before becoming affiliated as an adult, eventually served as Sisterhood president. She offered a glowing portrait of Gershon Chertoff, a man who thought deeply about the issues of his time and read widely; who held strong opinions and was involved in every decision of the synagogue, and who was deeply empathetic toward his congregants.
The first time she saw Rabbi Chertoff, she told NJJN, was at a brit. “It was just in passing, but I noticed he was a very handsome young man coming into the temple.” She ultimately came to know him well, she said, as a “true man of the book. When he was not busy with his congregational duties, he could be found every day from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. in his office with his head in a book. The walls were lined with books, and I think he could have recited most of them by heart.”
When the congregation merged with Millburn’s B?nai Israel, most of the items in the synagogue were donated to the Salvation Army, according to Hirschberg. “His great concern was what would happen to his books.” So, she explained, the synagogue board rented an office for him at the local Y and built him a bookcase. His books were moved there so he would continue to have access to them.
He also had a great understanding and compassion for his congregants. “If someone had a loss, he was always there with words of wisdom or understanding”He was always there for us. He related so beautifully to my two daughters. If one had a problem, she would go to him. After my husband died, he gave me very good advice. He told me don’t sell the house. Your younger daughter needs the stability of knowing the house where she grew up is still here. He touched me deeply. He cared.”
While his sermons were brilliant, Hirschberg said, “they were never over anyone’s head.” While he never offered a partisan view of politics, she added, he always discussed the issues of the day in his sermons, particularly on the Shabbat before election day, when he would encourage everyone to vote.
The congregation was proud of his many affiliations with the broader community, and the respect with which he was accorded. “He was consulted by several governors, Democratic and Republican alike. He was a consultant to the state supreme court, and he was asked to sit on the board of Union County College,” according to Hirschberg,
And Gershon Chertoff was respected even when the congregation was divided. When the Conservative movement decided to become egalitarian, “Rabbi leaned more toward practices of yesteryear rather than new practices,” said Hirschberg. “He would weigh and measure his thoughts. There was a huge congregational meeting. And he ultimately prevailed because he was respected. Women could go up and open the ark as long as they were appropriately dressed. Before that, women were not permitted on the bima at all.”
He had opinions on all matters of the synagogue, even the spelling of its name. “He didn’t like the apostrophe in “Bnai,” and so there was no apostrophe.”
Gershon maintained his ties with the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he had trained. When Hirschberg asked the rabbi where he went with his own problems, he responded that he went to his teachers at JTS.
And he had another tie to the seminary: His father, Rabbi Paul Chertoff, ordained in 1911, was a respected Talmud professor who taught undergraduates at what was then called Teacher’s Institute (now known as the Albert A. List College) as well as those preparing for the rabbinate in a graduate program known as the pre-theological program. Today, the Rabbi Paul Chertoff Prize, established by the TI Class of 1941, is awarded each year by List College to an outstanding student of Talmud. Paul Chertoff died in 1966.
Dr. Avraham Holtz, Simon H Fabian Professor of Hebrew Literature at JTS, recalls sitting in Paul Chertoff’s class as a pre-rabbinic student and finding a teacher who was very interested in his students. “He was very well dressed. He had a very good sense of humor. He was a wonderful person and a fine teacher. For me, it was the first time I had studied Talmud in English. [Holtz had previously studied Talmud in Hebrew.] He was very understanding that it was something new for me. He had patience. He would always try to make each student feel that he was the most important. He would be certain each student understood what he was saying and that he understood what each person was saying. He entertained questions and appreciated students? remarks and would build on them.” Looking at photos of Michael Chertoff in the news, Holtz added, “There’s something of his face that reminds me of his grandfather.”
A member for many years of Temple Beth Ahm in Springfield, Michael Chertoff, who lives in Bernardsville, is now a member of Congregation B?nai Israel in Basking Ridge.
Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank, leader of the Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, was rabbi at Temple Beth Ahm in Springfield from 1987-1999 and recalled that Chertoff “was a good Conservative Jew? who was a member of the synagogue’s havura. Its current rabbi, Mark Mallach recalls that Chertoff and his wife, Meryl, were among the first people he met when they hosted a tea at their home for the new rabbi.
If confirmed by the Senate, Chertoff, a federal appeals court judge who served as U.S. attorney for New Jersey, would succeed Tom Ridge at the helm of a federal department that spans 22 federal agencies.
Johanna Ginsberg can be reached at email@example.com.
Jewish Virtual Library
A Division of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise
Michael Chertoff was nominated by President George W. Bush on January 11, 2005, to succeed Tom Ridge as Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Chertoff has served as a United States Court of Appeals judge, federal prosecutor and assistant U.S. Attorney General.
Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Chertoff attended Harvard University, graduating in 1975. He then graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1978, going on to clerk for appellate judge Murray Griffin for a year before clerking for United States Supreme Court justice William Brennan from 1979 to 1980. He worked in private practice with Latham & Watkins from 1980 to 1983 before being hired as a prosecutor by Rudolph Giuliani, then the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, working on mafia and political corruption-related cases.
Being the son of a rabbi, Chertoff is also known to have strong ties to the Jewish community. Both of his children have attended Jewish private schools, and his wife, Meryl, was a co-chairwomen of the regional Anti-Defamation League’s civil rights committee.
In 1987, Chertoff joined the office of the U.S. Attorney for the state of New Jersey and was appointed by President George H.W. Bush as United States Attorney for the state in 1990. Chertoff was asked to stay in his position after President Clinton took office in 1993 at the request of Democratic Senator Bill Bradley making him the sole Republican U.S. attorney not replaced by the new administration. Chertoff stayed with the U.S. Attorney’s office until 1994, when he entered private practice, returning to Latham & Watkins as a partner.
Chertoff later served as special counsel for the Senate committee during the Whitewater investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton. When Chertoff faced Senate confirmation in 2003 for a federal judgeship, Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a Senator from New York, cast the lone dissenting vote against Chertoff’s confirmation, explaining that her vote was in protest of the way junior White House staffers were "very badly treated" by Chernoff’s staff during the Whitewater investigation.
In 2000, Chertoff worked as special counsel to the New Jersey State Senate Judiciary Committee, investigating racial profiling in New Jersey. He also did some fundraising for George W. Bush and other Republicans during the 2000 election cycle and advised Bush’s presidential campaign on criminal justice issues. From 2001 to 2003, he headed the criminal division of the Department of Justice, leading the prosecutions case against terrorist suspect Zacarias Moussaoui and against accounting firm Arthur Andersen for destroying documents relating to the Enron collapse. There, he came under fire as one of the chief architects of the Bush administration’s legal strategies for fighting the war on terror. One of the more controversial elements of this strategy was the detainment of thousands of immigrants of Middle-Eastern descent. Chertoff also was an instrumental figure in the drafting of the USA Patriot Act. His input helped in the final indictment of a Florida-based alleged leader of Islamic Jihad.
Chertoff was appointed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia by George W. Bush on March 5, 2003, and was confirmed by the Senate 88-1 on June 9. His confirmation to the Homeland Security post was unanimously approved by the Senate on February 15, 2005.