When his name first came down, Michael Mukasey seemed like an admirably non-terrible choice for the job of attorney general. But asMark Kleiman says the hearings process has revealed him to be completely unacceptable:

But if Mukasey won't say that waterboarding is torture and claims that the President has some undefined power to violate statute law — even criminal laws, such as the ban on torture and other war crimes — under his "Article II powers," then why should the Senate Judiciary Committee even bring his nomination to a vote? If he says he hasn't read the latest torture memos or decided whether waterboarding is torture, Sen. Leahy ought to tell him to read the memos and observe a waterboarding session and come back when he's done his homework.

Right. These hearings need to mean something. They shouldn't merely be an opportunity for Senators to preen and ask question that maybe just maybe the nominee will screw up on and humiliate himself with. In particular, if the nominee avoids saying the abhorrent ("I endorse torture and believe the president can violate laws against torture and order others to do so without consequence") primarily by refusing to answer questions, then you have to shut him down. The president is entitled to a degree of deference with his nominees, but certainly not a degree that extends to just not explaining what the nominee is saying when Senators question him on the most controversial issues facing his department.