President George W. Bush has tapped federal judge Michael Chertoff as his second choice to replace Tom Ridge as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik withdrew his nomination.
Before sitting on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, Chertoff, 51, headed the Justice Department's Criminal Division from 2001 to 2003. At Justice, Chertoff helped craft the Bush Administration's legal response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, including the controversial USA Patriot Act.
Earlier, Chertoff was a U.S. attorney for New Jersey, a federal prosecutor in New York City, and a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr.
Bush has stressed Chertoff's confirmability--he's already been confirmed three times--and his management of Justice's 800-person criminal division. Critics, however, cite Chertoff's relative lack of management experience. He will head an amalgamated department of 22 preexisting federal agencies and 180,000 people.
"He's very distinguished in the legal arena," says retired Col. Randall J. Larsen, president of the consulting firm Homeland Security Associates, "but there is nothing in his background about managing any sort of large organization. To me, that should have been on the top of the list."
Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, lauds Chertoff as "a strong candidate for this important post." Still, the American Civil Liberties Union urges the Senate to question him "aggressively to ensure his fitness for the position and the strength of his dedication to the Bill of Rights."
Sen. Jon S. Corzine (D-N.J.) says he will strongly support the nominee. But that won't stop Corzine from impressing on Chertoff the need for "tougher rail security standards and the adoption of mandatory federal security standards for chemical facilities."