A lawsuit alleging Justice Department officials during the George W. Bush administration used political and ideological information when rejecting applicants can proceed, according to a ruling today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The lawsuit stems from a 2008 report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, which found that hundreds of applicants for summer internships and Honors Programs spots were turned away in 2002 and 2006, after political appointees took over the hiring process. Investigators found that those with liberal leanings or affiliations were rejected more than three times as often as their conservative counterparts.
Attorneys Matthew Faiella and Daniel Herber then filed suit, contending that former Justice Department officials mishandled their applications and destroyed records, violating the Privacy Act, the Civil Service Reform Act and the Federal Records Act among other violations.
The lawsuit named former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; Esther Slater McDonald, former counsel to the associate attorney general; Michael Elston, former chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty; former White House Liaison Monica Goodling; and Louis DeFalaise, director of the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management.
But in December 2011, a federal judge dismissed the case.
While noting that “misconduct by senior government officials… must not be condoned,” U.S. District Court Judge John Bates said the attorneys had nonetheless failed to meet “the burden to prevail on the Privacy Act claims presented in this case.”
The three-judge panel disagreed and sent the case back to the lower court.
“Unrebutted evidence demonstrates that department officials in control of the printed, annotated applications were on notice that department investigation and future litigation concerning the 2006 Honors Program improprieties were reasonably foreseeable. Nevertheless, they intentionally destroyed these records,” wrote Judge Judith Rogers, who was joined in the unanimous opinion by Judges Merrick Garland and Thomas Griffith. “A reasonable trier of fact could find that the record destruction was neither accidental nor simply a matter of utilizing the Department’s record destruction schedule.”
The Justice Department, which had pushed to dismiss the case, declined to comment on today’s ruling.