Sen. Charles Schumer, the liberal Democrat from New York, raised the hackles and suspicions of Republican conservatives when he spoke warmly of Michael Mukasey, President Bush’s choice to be U.S. attorney general, and said the former judge had the potential to be “a consensus nominee.”

“Consensus” looked like the last thing the capital was going to get on this particular appointment. The White House’s leading candidate was said to be former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, a leading conservative and the top choice of the GOP’s still scrappy right. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said he would do everything in his power to see that Olson was not confirmed.

It wasn’t exactly a peace offering, but Bush did avoid a confrontation by picking Mukasey, 66, who retired last year as chief judge of the federal district for the New York City area, where he served for 18 years.

Mukasey has a reputation as a law-and-order judge in the traditional conservative mode with a true conservative’s concern for rights. He thwarted Bush administration efforts to block terror suspect Jose Padilla from meeting with his lawyers.

Mukasey, who presided over the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial, is said to have substantial judicial expertise in national security issues, which he will need because the next attorney general will preside over a rewrite of the wiretapping laws.

His top priority will be staffing, and restoring the elan of, a Justice Department demoralized and tarnished by the tenure of Alberto Gonzales. The sooner a new attorney general tackles that critical chore, the better.

Senate Democrats ought to respond to the Mukasey appointment in something of the same spirit as Bush made it and confirm him thoroughly and expeditiously and not use his nomination, as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has threatened to do, to force the administration to cough up documents the committee seeks.

Mukasey has not spent much time in Washington, meaning that he doesn’t have many enemies here but also that the lawmakers don’t know him. The senators will get acquainted with him during his hearings. The enemies will come with the job.