Attorney General Eric Holder is calling an editorial in the Washington Times “truly shameful” for its use of stereotypes to skewer the Justice Department’s hiring policy for people with disabilities.
In a letter to the editor, Holder condemned an Aug. 23 editorial entitled, “Holder’s ‘Severe Mental Deficiency.’”
The editorial asserted that the department had taken “affirmative action to crazy extremes,” citing a Civil Rights Division memo detailing the department’s policy on hiring individuals with disabilities. The memo, issued earlier this summer, lists a number of “targeted disabilities” that give greater flexibility to the department to hire qualified individuals. Some such disabilities include paralysis, deafness and blindness, in addition to “severe intellectual disability” or “psychiatric disability,” among other things.
The Washington Times called the policy memo “elastic enough to allow or encourage fraud, with or without the complicity of people making hiring decisions.” The Justice Department memo was circulated in the conservative blogosphere over the past couple of weeks.
“Most employers would balk at even minor mental disabilities in hiring a lawyer, let alone severe ones,” the editorial said. “But the policy states that the Cabinet department run by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. must ‘achieve a work force from all segments of society,’ which includes those who are teetering on the edge of sanity.”
The editorial continued, saying it is ironic that under the first black president, “the federal hiring process is separate and unequal.”
Holder called the editorial “truly shameful” in his letter to the editor. Hiring authority given to the department originated with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, signed by President Richard Nixon. He writes that the law was put in place, in part, to help returning veterans who were struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental ailments. He noted that while the department employs 116,000 people, fewer than 11,000 of them are lawyers, giving qualified individuals with disabilities a range of employment paths within the agency.
“Your Aug. 23 editorial about people with disabilities was ill-informed, offensive and a stark reminder that persistent prejudices and stereotypes remain too prevalent in our society and must not go unchecked,” Holder wrote. “…It demonstrates the kind of unjustified attitudes that have resulted in the unacceptably high unemployment rate for people with disabilities.”