Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez testified on Capitol Hill Thursday about his “agenda of restoration and revitalization” for the Civil Rights Division.
That agenda includes new rules for hiring career civil service lawyers intended to protect the process from politics. Those rules are being finalized, according to Alejandro Miyar, a Justice Department spokesman.
In a statement before the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil rights, Perez said the rules will “ensure that the very best candidates for the job are selected through a process that is conducted fairly, transparently and without any consideration of the candidate’s political view.”
While the cautious Perez didn’t make explicit reference to the George W. Bush administration, committee Democrats filled in the blanks for him.
“The division has been deeply troubled over the past eight years. Career civil rights attorneys were routinely overruled by political appointees,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) chairman of the subcommittee. “Enforcement was in some key areas grossly neglected.”
During the Bush administration, the Civil Rights Division was in turmoil as Bush political appointee Bradley Schlozman drove out career lawyers deemed to be liberal and hired conservatives to replace them.
Schlozman, who served in a variety of posts in the division from 2003 to 2006, broke federal law in taking political and ideological affiliations into account for the career civil service jobs, according to this Justice Department Inspector General report.
Perez testified on the same day the Government Accountability Office released a 180-page report showing a marked declined in enforcement of anti-discrimination and voting rights laws under the administration of George W. Bush. Perez said the Obama administration would not be “picking and choosing” which laws to enforce. (We’ll have a separate story on the GAO report later).
As Democratic members of the committee focused on the GAO report’s findings, Republicans honed in on two of their favorite political targets: the Association for Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) and the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case that was dismissed by the Obama DOJ in May.
After a half hour of opening statements from committee members, Nadler prepared to introduce Perez, saying “now we can get back to the subject of the hearing, which is the Civil Rights Division and not ACORN.”
Rep. Lamar Smith countered that Democrats were “playing the Bush blame game” instead of overseeing the Obama administration.
Republicans also attacked the notion of hate crimes laws, which Perez has made a top priority for the division. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) asked Perez if the murders at Fort Hood by alleged shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan would be considered a hate crime because it appeared to be religiously motivated. Perez said he wasn’t involved with the investigation so didn’t comment directly.