I had the oppourtunity to watch Mukasey in action when I was a financial reporter covering the World Trade Center insurance litigation in which leaseholder Larry Silverstein tried to claim that the the destruction of the Twin Towers by two planes represented two events, entitling him to double the insurance money. It was a highly complicated case involving billions of dollars, more than 20 insurance companies from around the world, and a number of high profile lawyers (such as David Boies). It could have very easily gotten out of hand, but I found Mukasey to be a really smart, tough, no-nonsense judge, who made it clear who was in charge, kept the parties in line, moved the case along, and often displayed a quick wit. I came away quite impressed with him. Of course, none of this says anything about his conservative bona fides or the totality of his case history, of which I am largely ignorant other than what is in the current news coverage.
As for the disappointment among conservatives, while I can certainly understand the thinking of those who were hoping up for a fight over a Ted Olson nomination, I think there’s also a case to be made that with just 16 months left in the administration, there wouldn’t have been much utility in it. If this were the beginning of the second term, or if this were a Supreme Court vacancy, I’d be the first to argue that conservatives should get ready to go to the mattresses. But I wonder if Olson’s talents would be wasted as a largely lame duck AG.