December 4, 2009

Hard data about politicization of the DOJ under Bush

Posted in DOJ, Elections, politics, voter suppression, voting, Voting Rights, Voting Rights Act tagged , , , , at 11:01 pm by bluebanshee

There was  no  mention of the GOP’s favorite boogeymen, ACORN and the Black Panthers in a recently released report on the Bush Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.  Instead, the report focused on the Bush administration’s disinclination to actively pursue the recommendations of career DOJ  attorneys.  Take a look at this one egregious example:

When the Bush administration ran the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, career lawyers wanted to look into accusations that officials in one state had illegally intimidated blacks during a voter-fraud investigation.

But division supervisors refused to “approve further contact with state authorities on this matter,” according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office auditing the activities of the division from 2001 to 2007.

The 180-page report was set  for release on Thursday Dec. 3 as the House of Representatives takes up its first oversight hearing of the Civil Rights Division under the Obama administration.

The report represents a comprehensive review of the division’s litigation activity in the Bush administration. When compared with the Clinton administration, its findings show a significant drop in the enforcement of several major antidiscrimination and voting rights laws. For example, lawsuits brought by the division to enforce laws prohibiting race or sex discrimination in employment fell from about 11 per year under President Bill Clinton to about 6 per year under President George W. Bush.

The study also found a sharp decline in enforcement of a section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits electoral rules with discriminatory effects, from more than four cases a year under Mr. Clinton to fewer than two cases a year under Mr. Bush.

The report confirms suspicions that the Bush administration was not interested in vigorous enforcement of civil rights and voting rights laws, choosing instead to engage in political purges of career employees deemed to be too liberal and to stymie the investigation of wrongdoing that might have benefited Republican candidates.

Joseph Rich, a civil rights lawyer who has been invited by Democrats to testify and was among those given an early copy of the report, said it provided hard data that the division was politicized in the Bush years.

The report “confirms the types of problems we have been discussing for several years, particularly with respect to the enforcement record of the Bush administration,” said Mr. Rich, who spent 37 years in the Civil Rights Division and led its voting rights section.

While Bush was President there were persistent indications that personnel decisions at the DOJ had been politicized but until a report from the department’s Inspector General there was no way to confirm whether these allegations were true.

During the Bush years, such criticism was based on anecdotes and incomplete data. But a report released in January by the department’s inspector general, citing internal e-mail and personnel files, confirmed that political appointees sought to hire conservatives and block liberals for career positions, contrary to civil service laws.

In too many cases, key information about the disposition of cases is simply missing, making in impossible to know what the decision criteria actually were.

The office also found that case files often had no information explaining why supervisors had decided to close cases, sometimes against the recommendation of career officials. In a companion report, it also found that six years of internal audits about the division’s case-tracking system were missing.

Either case administration was incredibly sloppy — or someone was trying to cover their tracks.  Neither of these possibilities is reassuring to those concerned about diligent enforcement of Federal civil rights and voting rights statutes by the DOJ.

Lest we forget, this is the same DOJ that fired U.S. Attorneys (like David Iglesias) around the country who resisted political pressure to pursue phantom voter fraud cases.  So there are good reasons to conclude the worst about these actions by the Bush DOJ.

On a positive note,  the newly confirmed assistant attorney general for Civil Rights was able to assure the committee that things had changed for the better in January 2009:

In a prepared opening statement, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas E. Perez, said the reports about hiring and enforcement activity “underscore the point that the division, in recent years, was not doing all that it could to fulfill our responsibility to enforce all the civil rights laws fairly and aggressively.”

He added, “That changed immediately this past January.”

Mr. Perez, who was confirmed in October, described a sharp uptick in enforcement activity across a range of civil rights matters since the Obama administration took office.

However, it is likely that some of those involved in the politicization of enforcement and hiring decisions during the Bush years are still entrenched in the DOJ, having “burrowed in”  to career positions during the final months of the Bush administration.  In addition, John Yoo, Hans Von Spakovsky and other key players in the Bush DOJ have not seen punishment meted out to them.

Eric Holder has a lot of work to do to restore the DOJ to its historic  non-political law enforcement mission.

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