Behind Sen. Charles Grassley’s attack this week on the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division’s hiring practices is the work of two conservative activists well known to observers of the division.
J. Christian Adams and Hans Von Spakovsky – who served together in the Civil Rights Division during the George W. Bush administration – have used Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain resumes of new hires during the Barack Obama administration. In an ongoing series of posts on the Pajamas Media blogging network (co-authored with Richard Pollack), Adams and Von Spakovsky have meticulously detail the names and backgrounds of the new hires, concluding:
It seems that enforcement activity is governed predominantly by political, not legal, factors. And with the new radical ideologues in the Voting Section, it is difficult to imagine the situation improving any time soon. Americans deserve much better from their Department of Justice.
Their series is entitled, “Every Single One,” as in “every single one” of the new hires is a liberal. Their research found the new lawyers have worked for organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union. It apparently formed the basis of Grassley’s assertion in a congressional hearing earlier this week that the Civil Rights Division in the Obama era “has hired 96 liberals and zero conservatives.”
The punch line here is, of course, that Adams and Von Spakovsky are the ones connected to improperly politicized hiring inside the division.
Heritage Foundation fellow Von Spakovsky was a political appointee in the division when it ran amok during the Bush administration hiring career attorneys based on their conservative ideology, and driving out veteran lawyers perceived to be too liberal.
The turmoil was well documented in this joint 2008 report of the Department of Justice Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, which found that the Bush appointees violated civil service laws in their hiring practices. One of the career lawyers who was apparently improperly hired for his conservative affiliations during that era was Adams, as Main Justice has previously documented.
In 2008, an Obama transition team report on the division found that 236 of 350 veteran civil rights lawyers left the division between 2003 and 2007. In their place, the Bush-era conservative hires pursued controversial cases that appeared designed to make ideological points about reserve discrimination, such as the New Black Panthers Party voter intimidation case and a lawsuit against black election officials in Noxubee County, Miss. Adams served as an attorney on both those lawsuits.
The executive branch of the U.S. government is run by a combination of long-term career employees and short-term political hires who come and go with each new presidential administration. The idea is to keep politics out of the nuts-and-bolts work of running the government, while ensuring that the party that wins the White House gets to put like-minded people into the top spots to direct policy.
The line between proper and improper hiring of career lawyers is whether someone is hired specifically for his politics rather than his qualifications.
The stumbling block for Grassley (and Adams and Von Spakovsky) is that the historical mission of the Civil Rights Division — ensuring full voting, housing and other rights for minorities who have faced documented discrimination — is inherently a liberal mission.
It’s just not clear how it’s wrong to hire career lawyers to staff the Civil Rights Division who have a background in civil rights.