Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’
Monday, August 2nd, 2010

A federal judge on Monday allowed a lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s health care reform law brought by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to move forward, declining the Justice Department’s request to dismiss the case.

In a 32-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson refused to throw out the state’s lawsuit, reported Reuters. Cuccinelli had argued that the requirement that  residents have health insurance was unconstitutional.

Hudson noted that his ruling was only an initial step, but said that the question raised in the lawsuit – whether it was constitutional to force citizens to buy something – had not been fully tested in court.

“The congressional enactment under review — the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision — literally forges new ground and extends (the U.S. Constitution’s) Commerce Clause powers beyond its current high watermark,” Hudson said, according to Reuters.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in a statement to Main Justice that the ruling was “merely a procedural decision by the court” to allow the case to move forward.

“We believe there is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. We are confident that the health care reform statute is constitutional and that we will ultimately prevail,” Schmaler said.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said the law was unconstitutional and congratulated Cuccinelli on the ruling, reported the Washington Post.

“The requirement that all Americans must purchase health insurance or face a penalty is not permitted under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution,” McDonnell said in a statement. “It would also violate Virginia’s Health Care Freedom Act, which was passed by a bipartisan majority of the Commonwealth’s democratically elected representatives and I signed into law this spring.”

If White House staff members were worried, they weren’t showing it.

“This is nothing new,” wrote Stephanie Cutter, reacting to the judge’s ruling on the White House blog. “We saw this with the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act – constitutional challenges were brought to all three of these monumental pieces of legislation, and all of those challenges failed. So too will the challenge to health reform.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius agreed with the Justice Department that the ruling was simply formality.

“We remain confident that the case is solid,” Sebelius told reporters during a conference call, reported Reuters. “This is just a step to move us to the debate on the merits of the case.”

Cuccinelli’s suit was filed shortly after Obama signed the legislation into law in March.

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez on Monday defended a Justice Department’s lawsuit that seeks to preempt the enforcement of an Arizona law that critics say could lead to discrimination against Hispanics.

“Under our system of government, there is one quarterback and only one quarterback when it comes to issues of immigration, and that is the federal government,” Perez told an audience gathered for a American Constitution Society event in Washington D.C.

Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez (file photo by Channing Turner / Main Justice)

States getting involved in immigration could complicate the federal government’s operations in a number of areas, Perez said.

“You cannot have a system of 50 quarterbacks in the immigration system because immigration includes issues of law enforcement, it involves decisions with implications in foreign policy, it involves incidents with humanitarian implications, and you can’t have 50 states making immigration law and have a coherent system,” Perez said.

The law at issue allows authorities to question an individual if law enforcement officials have a “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally. It also criminalizes the “willful failure” to carry immigration documents. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit last week against Arizona and its governor, Republican Jan Brewer, seeking to invalidate the state’s immigration law on the grounds that it is preempted by federal immigration laws.

Justice Department lawyers traveled to Arizona to listen to what various group thought about the law before deciding to file the suit, Perez said.

“We didn’t simply sit here inside the beltway and figure out what was best for Arizona or what was constitutional under that circumstance, we went out and listened,” Perez said. “And it’s very noteworthy to me to see that officers who are on the front lines, police chiefs who are on the front lines, talk about how if you want to get smart on crime, you should focus on the most serious and violent criminals and you shouldn’t be focusing your first attention on the day laborers, and that’s precisely what this bill among other things does.”

In an interview with CBS that aired Sunday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department “wanted to go out with what we thought of our strongest initial argument and to focus on what we thought is the most serious problem with the law as it now exists.” He suggested that a second lawsuit which focused on racial profiling grounds could be possible if the first suit were to fail.

On Monday, Perez encouraged people to read the pleadings in the case.

“What you will find is not only are there declarations from federal officials in that case, but you’ll also find there are declarations from the police chief or Phoenix, the police chief of Tuscan, the police chief of Flagstaff, and the sheriff of… one of the counties that borders Mexico,” he said.

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

A recent Government Accountability Office report found that 32 politically appointed Justice Department employees had transitioned to career DOJ positions during the last years of the Bush administration, a process known as “burrowing in.” In two instances involving DOJ appointees, proper protocol was not followed in the transition process, the GAO found.

The GAO report, released Tuesday, looked at cases across the federal government from May 1, 2005 through May 30, 2009. The report found that 139 political appointees transitioned to career jobs during that time period, with the largest number of cases occurring at the DOJ.

(iStock)

Burrowing in, sometimes also called “digging in,” is not unique to the George W. Bush administration. The practice has gone on for years and is tolerated by both political parties. It can represent an effort by political appointees to move to a safer career track in order to keep a government job leading up to or after a new president is elected.

In a 2000 report on the same topic, the GAO found that 57 political appointees in the Clinton administration converted to career positions from October 1998 to June 2000, with 13 — the most of any agency — transitioning at the Justice Department.

Tuesday’s report did not condemn the practice, noting that political appointees “can bring valuable skills and experience to the federal workforce, and the merit-based conversion of political appointees to career positions can be a useful means to achieving a highly qualified workforce.”

Most of the DOJ cases examined in the report occurred while Bush was in office, including some just a few days before President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Some of the employees may have switched at the beginning of Obama’s term and may have been approved by Obama’s Justice Department appointees.

According to the report, in January 2007 an unnamed special assistant to the Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division was allegedly improperly converted into an Assistant U.S. Attorney position in the Southern District of Florida.

The GAO report said that most of the officials conducting interviews for the position recommended against the hire, and one official noted that they had interviewed at least two superior candidates. The officials “noted the eventual selectee’s lack of experience, that he did not appear to stay in any job for an extended period of time, and observed that his writing sample did not contain much original writing, but was boilerplate,” according to the report.

Even though the former special assistant was viewed as a weak candidate, he was hired as a career Assistant U.S. Attorney position after serving on a six-month detail. “This action appears to violate the prohibition against granting unauthorized advantages to individuals in the hiring process,” the report concluded.

In another instance, the U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Georgia authorized a vacancy announcement for a career position for which she later applied and was selected to fill. “Although there is no evidence to suggest that the eventual selectee was involved in the actual selection process, this appearance of a violation of ethical standards calls this conversion action into question,” the report said, adding that it was a potential violation of ethical standards.

The Justice Department told the GAO that the agency’s ethics officer “is gathering information on this conversion and, based on the information she receives, her office will take the appropriate next steps.”

While the individual is not named in the report, the GAO noted that the individual was appointed U.S. Marshal in August 2002 — a description that fits Theresa Rodgers who was appointed U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Georgia at that time.

U.S. Marshals spokesman Jeff Carter confirmed that Rodgers is still with the U.S. Marshals service but declined to comment on the report.

“It would be inappropriate for the U.S. Marshals Service to comment on the GAO report since, as is indicated in the report, the agency is conducting an ethical standards inquiry for potential departmental review,” Carter said in a statement.

In the majority of cases examined, DOJ used proper protocol, according to the report. Some of those cases include:

  • The Director of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service became the Director of the Office of Self-Governance in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in January 2007.
  • In another instance, the Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics became the Deputy Director for Planning in the Planning Office of the Director’s office of the Bureau of Justice Assistance in 2006 and received a $10,000 boost in salary.
  • A Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Assistant Attorney General became the Deputy Associate Solicitor for Mineral Resources in the Office of the Solicitor in July 2007 and received a $9,000 salary boost.
  • The U.S. Marshall for the District of Nebraska took the position of Criminal Investigator in the Judicial Security Division of the Office of Protective Operations of the United States Marshals Service, along with a $10,000 cut in salary in July 2008.
  • The Supervisory Criminal Investigator in Superior Court for the United States Marshals Service became a Criminal Investigator in the Human Resources Division of the Training Academy of the United States Marshals Service in 2008.
  • The U.S. Attorney at Charlotte Headquarters of the Department of Justice became an Attorney Adviser in Western Charlotte Headquarters in March 2009, keeping the same salary.
  • The Chief Of Staff in the Office of the General Counsel, became an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne, Wyo., just before the end of the Bush administration.
  • A Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Chief of Staff in the Office of Legal Policy became an Attorney Adviser in the Office of Legal Policy in December 2007.
  • A Deputy Administrator in the Office of Justice Programs became an Assistant U.S. Attorney for The District of Columbia in the Executive Office for United States Attorneys in November 2006.
  • An Attorney Adviser in the Drug Enforcement Task Force became an Attorney-Adviser in the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys General Counsel Office in March 2009, keeping the same salary.

Additional reporting by David Johnston.

The full report is embedded below.

GAO Report on Political to Career Conversions

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Amy Jeffress (left), a counselor to Attorney General Eric Holder focusing on national security, will take up a new position in London later this summer (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

The top national security counselor to Attorney General Eric Holder has been named the Department of Justice Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London, a Justice Department spokesman confirmed to Main Justice.

Amy Jeffress, who joined the Attorney General’s office the day after President Barack Obama was inaugurated, will make the move overseas later this summer, Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. He said a replacement for Jeffress has not yet been named.

“It has been a great privilege to work for the Attorney General on these important issues, but the chance to continue working for the department in this unique position in London is a rare opportunity that I could not pass up,” Jeffress said in a statement.

The departure of Jeffress comes as the Obama administration’s plan to close Guantanamo Bay has slowed to a near halt and national security matters have proven to be among the most difficult issues Holder has confronted during his tenure.

In her capacity as Holder’s counselor, Jeffress set up three inter-agency task forces to review the cases of Guantanamo Bay detainees. The task force finalized a report on the detainees in January, and the report was sent to Congress in late May.

Jeffress told The New Yorker that the challenge of figuring out what to do with the detainees was much greater than expected. “There was no file for each detainee,” she said. The Bush administration clearly “hadn’t planned on prosecuting anyone. Instead, it was ‘Let’s take a shortcut and put them in Guantanamo’.”

Jeffress previously served as chief of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, where she oversaw terrorism and espionage investigations and prosecutions. Between 1996 and 2009, she served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office. She served as counsel to the Deputy Attorney General from 1994 to 1996 and as counsel in the Department of Defense Office of General Counsel in 1993 and 1994. She clerked for the U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell from 1992 to 1993. She received her law degree from Yale Law School and her bachelor’s degree from Williams College. She also earned a master’s degree in political science from the Free University of Berlin.

Jeffress comes from a family of lawyers: her father is white-collar lawyer William Jeffress, a partner at Baker Botts LLP who was part of the legal team that represented Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Her brother Jonathan Jeffress is a public defender in the D.C. Public Defender’s office.

This post has been updated.

Friday, June 11th, 2010

The Justice Department’s liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community, Matt Nosanchuk, said Thursday the LGBT perspective has a “seat at the table” in the Obama administration.

Matt Nosanchuk (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Nosanchuk, who works as a senior adviser to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, was part of a panel that spoke at the National Press Club on Thursday about the Obama administration’s work on LGBT issues.

The Justice Department has taken some heat from some in the LGBT community for defending the Defense of Marriage Act and the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy even though the Obama administration opposes them.

Nosanchuk indicated he has had input into several Justice Department briefs defending the two to make sure they didn’t use offensive language or arguments.

“I wasn’t there when the first [DOMA] brief was filed,” said Nosanchuk, who joined DOJ last August. “I was there when the second one was filed. I think we would all kind of agree that the language in the first brief was not … necessarily the best language. But it sort of speaks for itself because the language and the approach changed.”

Nosanchuk said that in the second DOMA brief, the Obama administration abandoned some of the more inflammatory arguments, such as citing studies that claimed gay parents were not as effective.

Still, Nosanchuk said the Justice Department has to defend all of the laws on the books, even if the administration disagrees with particular laws.

“The Department of Justice has a historic and traditional obligation to defend the laws that Congress passes,” Nosanchuk said. “We don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing with laws to enforce.”

Nosanchuk said that the previous administration chose not to enforce some laws, specifically within the Civil Rights Division, and that was not a practice the Obama administration wanted to continue.

The Civil Rights Division, Nosanchuk added, has worked closely with the Civil Division to defend the Matthew Shepard Hates Crimes Act in a lawsuit brought by the Thomas More Law Center.

Speaking for himself, Nosanchuk said that cultural wedge issues like battles over gay rights “tend to fill a vacuum” in times when there were fewer pocketbook or hot-button issues in a campaign.

Within the Justice Department, the president of DOJ Pride, an organization for LGBT employees, said in October there had been a “big leap forward” on such issues in recent years.

Later this month, the Justice Department will host a June Pride Month event in the Great Hall of the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department building. The June 21st event will feature Perez; Attorney General Eric Holder; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D- Minn.); Sharon Lubinski, the U.S. Marshal in Minnesota; and Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington.

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

The Civil Division of the Justice Department has filed a response to one of the first lawsuits against the health care law enacted in March, giving a hint as to the federal government’s strategy for defending the law in court.

Assistant Attorney General Tony West, Secretary for Health and Human Services Kathryn Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Justice Department lawyers argue that the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan has no standing to challenge the law because the provision at issue — the individual mandate — does not take effect until 2014. The conservative-leaning public interest group is joined in the lawsuit by several individuals seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the law from taking effect.

“They bring this suit four years before the provision they challenge takes effect, demonstrate no current injury, and merely speculate whether the law will harm them once it is in force,” DOJ lawyers wrote in their response filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan.

Because the health care industry operates in interstate commerce, “there is a long-recognized federal interest in its regulation,” DOJ argued.

The plaintiffs claims that the minimum coverage provision falls outside of Congress’ authority to regulate interstate commerce and its power to tax and spend for the general welfare “are flatly wrong,” the brief argued.

Efforts to block the individual mandate provision of the health care overhaul law are underway in 33 states, according to The Washington Post. On Friday, seven additional states plan to join a federal lawsuit that was filed by 13 states in Florida. The Attorney General of Virginia has also filed his own lawsuit against the law.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said the government would “vigorously defend” the health care law after it was signed by Obama in March.

Trial attorneys Ethan P. Davis and Jesse Z. Grauman filed the Justice Department’s response, which also lists Sheila Lieber, Deputy Director of the Federal Programs Branch in the Civil Division; U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara L. McQuade; Civil Division Deputy Assistant Attorney General Ian Heath Gershengorn; and Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Tony West.

DOJ’s response to the lawsuit is embedded below.

Defendant’s Response 210cv11156 ED Mich

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

John Clark, director of the U.S. Marshals Service, at his office in Northern Virginia (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

United States Marshals Service Director John Clark has spent more than 20 years in the service. He previously served as the Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal and United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia. A George W. Bush appointee, Clark was the first career Deputy U.S. Marshal appointed as director and was sworn in on March 17, 2006. When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, Clark stayed on as director, where he’ll remain unless the Obama decides to nominate someone to fill the position.

Last month, Clark was joined by Attorney General Eric Holder at the U.S. Marshals Service Director’s Awards Ceremony, where they gave out awards to U.S. Marshals employees recognizing them for their work on issues like the Mexican border, upgrading the technology used to track fugitives, and preparing mobile command centers.

Main Justice sat down with Clark to discuss the U.S. Marshals Service’s plans for dealing with the transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners, drafting logistics for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City and dealt with an influx of activity on the Southwest border. An edited version of the interview appears below.

Main Justice: What type of challenges is the U.S. Marshals Service facing?

John Clark: There are lots of things that stretch and strain us these days, of course, you can just think about everything from Guantanamo Bay to the recent few days with the Times Square bomber. Folks like that end up in our care and custody. There’s the Southwest Border, the prison population. In fact, nationally we’ve had about a 4 percent increase, about 58,000 plus federal detainees in our care and custody. Enforcing the Adam Walsh Act, protecting the federal judiciary, witness security. You put it all in the basket and it’s a tremendous amount of work to handle.

John Clark during his interview with Main Justice last week (photo by Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals).

So this year, thanks to a really decent president’s budget for this fiscal year, we have been able to overcome some of the challenges – at least on our funding and human resources base – or as they might be called boots on the ground. We’ll have more deputy marshals, we’re finishing up here our largest recruitment effort ever. This year we’ll have about 14 new basic deputy marshal classes passing through our academy [there are typically 45 or 46 deputy marshals in each graduating class].

The Marshals Service, because of our unique role in the judicial system, really has a touch on so many different things that go on. I like to describe it as we’re the neck of the federal judicial funnel. Everything that comes though in terms of prisoners, fugitive warrants, asset forfeiture, witness protection, protecting judges, all that kind of stuff some through that funnel, and the Marshals Service has some role to play with that.

Putting the deputy marshals in the field where the work is, and using our federal funding base to meet and help us offset a lot of these challenges – things that are going on around the world that impact us. We are overcoming some of those challenges this year thanks to great support from the Department of Justice and the president on the budget, so this year and through next year will be better for us.

MJ: On the issue of Guantanamo, I guess you’re sort of in a holding pattern right now until they decide what’s next. How detailed are the plans for transferring prisoners to the United States from Guantanamo?

Clark: I will say the plans are very detailed. We try to think of everything. I wouldn’t discuss those plans obviously openly, but we are organizationally ready and able to meet the wishes or the direction of the president and the Attorney General to provide for safe and secure location wherever the trials might be decided to be held.

You’re correct that right now the Attorney General and the president have decided to explore other locations and actions they might want to take about where they might want to try them eventually. But our role is to provide for the very best security possible wherever those trials may be held.

MJ: So there are a number of different options you’ve explored for where the trials would be held?

Clark: Sure. At the request of the Attorney General. If he directs certain places where he feels the trials might be held as a venue, we would go out and do a security survey, look at the venue itself and try to make preliminary assessments on what vulnerabilities might exist at that particular location, as well as describing what strengths their might be or what might lend itself to being a better venue for the trials.

That’s all done on what I would call our professional opinion. It’s not an exact science when you’re trying to figure out security circumstances. But you can rely on a lot of past experience and things that you can do nowadays to make a very good assessment of a particular location to see if if would be good for a trial.

U.S. Marshals Service Deputy Director Chris Dudley (left), Attorney General Eric Holder (second from left) members of the USMS Terrorist Detainee Task Force - Assistant Director for Judicial Security Mike Prout, Chief Michael Rose, Assistant Chief Heather Lowry, Chief Tricia Ashford, and Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Timothy Hogan and U.S. Marshals Services Director John Clark (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

MJ: How quickly could you set up a location if a certain spot was designated?

Clark: We could respond very quickly. In terms of assessing a spot that had not yet been looked at, that would probably take some time. But that would only take about 72 hour or a week to get the basic survey done. Obviously, the more time we have, the better it is.

It would be doubtful that the Attorney General or the president would ask us to do something like that on a moments notice – although in the Marshals Service we are known for being able to do something overnight and get it done. We have plenty of history and a track-record of being asked to do something on very short notice and getting it done. So that does happen.

We have the mechanism in place to very quickly take care of assessments and do those kind of things. But if it’s a decision, for example, of where to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees, the more time we have to assess the place the better.

MJ: With the KSM trial, what are the additional challenges that the U.S. Marshals see that make it different from a normal trial?

Clark: As individuals are watched on the world stage, everybody has an interest on how that plays out. But when you think about the individuals themselves and their connection to terrorism, their open statements that they’ve already made in terms of their hatred for Americans, the security apparatus has the be the very best it can be, as visible as it can be, as robust as it can be.

The challenge for us comes when you’re having a public trial in a building that is open to the public, that is often in places where there’s all the other considerations you need to make, in terms of the community, in terms of the building itself and the structure itself. There’s lots of factors that go into trying to assess all that. It’s just safe to say when you have high-visibility-type detainees such as those held at Guantanamo Bay that we need to really be on top of our game when handling security not only surrounding those individuals but all the individuals that they might come in contact with – from judges, the public, U.S. attorneys and others who are there.

MJ: I noticed recently in Philadelphia you assigned new deputy U.S. Marshals to that area. How do you decide which areas need additional Marshals?

Clark: We have a resource allocation model. One of the things we’ve really focused on in the past few years is a methods and means to be able to place deputy marshals and resources where they’re most needed. Of course there was congressional intent over the past few years to place some of our new positions on the Southwest border because of the increased workload down there. But offices like Philadelphia and a number of other places. In fact now a new graduating class will see recruits going to all points across the country. This last graduating class, I remember talking to deputy marshals going to small places like Vermont to large district offices like Houston, so we’re filling the gaps.

MJ: You’ve been heading the U.S. Marshals for awhile now, what trends have you noticed over that course of time?

Clark: Well I’m approaching my fifth year as director, and I’ve noticed in that time what I call an increased tempo – a pace – of national security issues, violent crime issues, on the Southwest border, of course taking primary responsibility for the Guantanamo detainee issues. When you think about that as a bunch of moving parts, there’s a lot of things that are going on there. One thing that’s really been noticeable to me is the pace is always on the increase. Just comparing where things are now to certainly five years ago. When you think to a pre-9/11 scenario, there was not so much of the process going on that we have today. It’s a very fast paced sort of process.

Clark and Attorney General Eric Holder (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

MJ: What are the accomplishments you’re most proud of?

Clark: We’ve been able to increase our efforts on violent crime. We’ve been able to increase the size and scope of our regional fugitive task force and our district fugitive task forces. I’ve also been here to sort of shepherd in the Adam Walsh Act law. When I first came in as director that was not yet signed into law, and there was a lot of debate about who would be responsible and if we were the right agency to tackle that.

I’m also pleased with the overall accomplishment of being able to get a more robust budget and resources for our agency which was desperately needed to see increases in staffing and financial ability to be able to handle the tasks that we’ve been given.

I guess the final thing, just in terms of things that have happened in recent years, is the increase in the judicial protection. Being able to get the home intrusion alarms in judges’ homes [and] opening up a threat management center here at our headquarters in order to be able to handle judicial threats. So those things have been able to make us a stronger, better agency.

MJ: To what do you attribute that rise in threats against judges and federal law enforcement officials?

Clark: There’s a few things I think that are going on there. For one there’s increased awareness with all the judges and the U.S. Attorneys and all those we’re responsible for protecting. And when you increase the awareness, that is to make people aware of the threat environment and their responsibility to report it, there’s usually, and in this case there was, an uptick in the number of incidents reported to us.

Every time there’s a conference with groups of attorneys meeting, we have someone from the Marshals going to those conferences to speak to them about their security and the importance of it. We’ve also strengthened our relationship with the judiciary. Whenever I travel, I meet with chief judges and district judges and U.S. attorneys to make sure that they have my number, they know how to get a hold of me, and that we are available to them on short notice. We’ve done a lot of education and awareness, so they see the need to report.

The cause of it, I might say though, in today’s world there are more individuals who are more prone to threatening judges. I think a lot of it has to do with the availability of information with the use of technology and the Internet. Individuals can find out more about particular cases and judges decisions. They can use Internet sources to find out more about the judge. So if someone is prone to want to threaten someone, there are a number of ways they can find material about a judge. We have to think about that as well. The number of individuals who are just prone to violence against judges or U.S. Attorneys has also increased.

MJ: But technology has also been a help to the Marshals as well. You have the mobile command units, increased ability to track fugitives. Could you talk a little bit about how things have changed in that respect, how technology has helped you track prisoners and fugitives?

Clark: Things like the mobile command units were all purchased with the purpose of helping us increase our response time, help us be fast on our feet. If there’s an incident anywhere in America, be it a natural disaster, like a Hurricane Katrina, or some type of a significant event – a major case that’s going on or a judicial protection detail, or a number of things where we might want to have a good mobile base of operations, command and control of communications – those vehicles help us do that. It’s designed to help us increase our response and be fluid and fast in getting there.

Director Clark's office in the Crystal City section of Arlington, Va. overlooks Reagan National Airport (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

MJ: On the Southwest border, what are some particular challenges that the Marshals are facing?

Clark: We have a very high volume of detainees around there, may of whom are apprehended along the border for either immigration violations or some other type of crime connected to the Southwest border. In Houston, Texas, alone, there’s about 6,500 detainees just in our South Texas district. So prisoner population generated from that is a great challenge. Cross border issues, violence, as you probably know from the news on a regular basis, there’s always something it seems like back and forth across the border.

The Marshals Service through our fugitive task forces are very involved in the various police and sheriff’s departments along the border and our federal partners in trying to apprehend fugitives or wanted people who are going back and forth from the U.S. to Mexico. We have an office in Mexico City and we have a number of what we call Mexican Investigative Liaisons – MIL positions – the deputy marshals who spend most of their day working with their counterparts in Mexico to help accomplish everything from international extraditions to finding people, wanted subjects.

So it’s a combination of just the huge Department of Homeland Security effort down there – the violence, the cartels, the drug trafficking – that drives a lot of the prisoner population and makes for a very busy area.

MJ: Internationally, how do you maintain relationships with other countries in terms of extraditing prisoners to and from the U.S.?

Clark: The Marshals Service is responsible for finding international and foreign fugitives, fugitives who have fled from another country to the United States and those who have fled from the United States to another country, so we have very good relationships with our foreign counterparts. In fact in a couple weeks, we’re co-hosting with the Toronto Police Service an international fugitive conference in Toronto which will have about 22 countries attending. We work very regularly with INTERPOL, of course the State Department, the Department of Justice of course with their international affairs.

Annually, now we conduct, it’s approaching a 1,000 now, international extraditions a year from points all over the world. In addition to that with the fugitive apprehension program, we assist foreign governments with finding individuals who are wanted here. If it has a terrorism nexis or national security nexis, the FBI will handle it. But the vast majority of those international cases for individuals, the U.S. Marshals Service will handle it. So we work very closely with the embassies here in Washington.

MJ: What are some of the countries you see the most interaction with?

Clark: Well on the Northern border with Canada, we have a lot of activity in that part of the country, and actually we have a very similar process there with our district offices along the northern border who interact very closely with our Canadian counterparts. In the European corridor, a lot of the countries which produce the most activity are Great Britain, Germany. We do have some activity in the Far East as well. A lot of the sex offender cases seem to migrate to or have some connectivity to the Far East.

Attorney General Eric Holder and USMS Director John Clark (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

MJ: In working with local and state law enforcement, have you noticed any recent needs because of budget constraints in different states?

Clark: We pride ourselves in working very closely with our state and local counterparts, and they too are struggling with budget restrictions or cutbacks in personnel. Many of the state and local departments that we’ve dealt with have actually had to reduce the number of police officers on the street.

We are able to help in locating wanted people that a lot of the departments are looking for, but also through our task forces we’re able to help supplement their police operations with some of our funding and personnel. So we’re able to help them with things like getting radios, or vehicles, or maybe paying out some overtime, so it helps them continue their basic crime fighting strategy. So it has been a noticeable thing.

MJ: Any particular areas where there has been a lot of help from the Marshals?

Clark: The most recent example is in Florida, where we had a number of locations were departments were asking for some federal help. We were ale to work with some of the congressional leaders, the Department of Justice and others to get funding to establish a task force there. Over the last year and a half or so we’ve been building up task force operations there in Florida. A number of places that wouldn’t have been able to do much at all on the fugitive apprehension side now have a very good, robust fugitive squad that’s part of the larger state of Florida.

MJ: The Marshals recently sent out a unit to protect the trial of the man convicted of killing abortion doctor George Tiller. How many of those type of special protection cases do the Marshals handle?

Clark: There are occasionally situations like that where we’ll have to provide extra protection for individuals who are part of a case. In some ways, that was an unusual circumstance because of the nature of what happened there with that particular situation. But from time to time we do have to go out and provide protection for individuals. In this case – the abortion provider Dr. Tiller’s extended family – you don’t know if there’s a larger plot of intent by others to want to kill others who are part of that group, so you just don’t know.

We have quite regularly had protection details on judges, and it usually requires a lot of investigative work and effort to determine the nature of the threat and we have to put in place protective measures to provide security for that individual and his or her family.

MJ: One of the things that is currently being considered is having cameras in the courtroom. Do you think that could pose new challenges for the Marshals Service?

Clark: It could. We organizationally, because of security issues, would want to make sure that the cameras don’t show the faces of witnesses or judges or people that might otherwise be harmed in a case. In other words, there are some legal issues that are certainly beyond any involvement that we have. We essentially follow the law whatever that is. But we have some concerns from a security standpoint.

MJ: The public serves a large role in your effort to capture fugitives by bringing them to your attention, how are you getting your message out there?

Clark: One of the things that I’m pleased to say is that we have a close relationship with America’s Most Wanted. They’ve done about 1,000 shows now, and the Marshals Service has been instrumental in 60 percent of the individuals captured on that show – either directly arresting them or helping another agency arrest them. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, we have a great connectivity to with the enforcement of the Adam Walsh Act. Basically any organization that has anything to do with our law enforcement functions, we have a strong partnership, a strong connectivity to them.

Clark during his interview with Main Justice (photo by Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals).

MJ: The Adam Walsh Act was mentioned on the 1,000th episode of America’s Most Wanted, I guess the president mentioned it as a priority for the next fiscal year?

Clark: John Walsh was interviewing the president, and the president had good research and he knew about the Marshals’ enforcement of the law and knew that we were not yet fully funded to do that, so he did pledge on national TV his support. We’re hoping as that unfolds down the line in that new fiscal year, we’ll see an appropriate number of resources being dedicated to fix that.

That’s another sort of huge undertaking for us, because there are by very conservative estimates 150,000 unregistered, or we call them non-compliant sex offenders out there, meaning there are individuals who their whereabouts are unknown in the local where they should be registered, so the local authorities don’t know where they are. If you turn on the TV or open the newspaper any given day, you’ll see evidence oftentimes of non-compliant sex offenders picking up young children or other teenagers and the results are often tragic, so we of course take that very seriously.

MJ: Could you talk a little about your work providing witness security and how that plays into successful prosecutions?

Clark: That’s an often hidden part of our work, but we are providing witness protection, and that’s been ongoing for a couple dozen years now. We have about 8,000 individuals for which we provide protective measures for, and with family members, the total is about 18,000.

So it’s a large protective operation that provides a great deal of support for the Department of Justice and others because it provides support for and helps to solidify the prosecutions. When you have witnesses who feel capable of testifying without any fear of retaliation or threats or any death threats they’re more willing to testify and more willing to participate in the case.

No one has ever been killed who have followed the rules. We have people who have left the program voluntarily on their own or haven’t been able to follow our instructions, but nobody under our direct responsibility has been killed so we’re very pleased with that record and we hope it stands.

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

The Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration will play a big part in the Obama administration’s plan to reduce the impact of illegal drugs on the America, according to a draft copy of the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy produced by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

According to a draft version of the plan obtained by Newsweek, the Justice Department will head up several initiatives aimed at addressing drug trafficking on the Mexican border, combating doctor shopping and working with international partners to stop drugs from entering the U.S. (The link to the PDF of the draft version of the plan was pulled from Newsweek’s website, but a copy is embedded below.)

Under the plan, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration will assist states with addressing doctor shopping — where patients seek prescriptions from several different doctors — and shutting down pill mills, which dispense prescriptions with little medical oversight. The agencies also are charged with cracking down on several rogue pain clinics in Houston, Los Angeles and Southern Florida.

According to the plan, DOJ, FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have produced a large volume of information about Mexican-based drug-trafficking organizations, but the information resides in different databases. Under the plan, the Justice Department will work with other agencies to make sure information from federal databases is accessible to state and local law enforcement officers who work on drug trafficking issues along the border.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s plan calls for the full implementation of the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, issued in June 2009, which was produced by the Office of the Deputy Attorney General and the Department of Homeland Security. The plan calls for increased coordination with local and state agencies, intensified efforts to stop the flow of weapons and money from the U.S. to Mexico and close collaboration with the Mexican government.

Additionally, DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which administers juvenile mentoring grants, will conduct a new mentoring training initiative for the children of incarcerated parents, specifically aimed at those with drug and alcohol problems. The plan also calls on the Office of Justice Programs to promote diversion strategies, which send drug offenders to alternative programs for substance abuse treatment.

The draft version of the plan, obtained by Newsweek, is embedded below.

National Drug Strategy v2

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Bartle Bull turns around to identify the member of the New Black Panther Party who held a nightstick (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

All the elements of a trial were in place on Friday for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on the New Black Panther Party case.

There was the chief prosecutor, played by David Blackwood, who serves as counsel to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. There were witnesses — Republican poll watchers Mike Mauro, Chris Hill and Bartle Bull — there were experts, and there were the charges: that the New Black Panthers intimidated voters in Philadelphia on election day in 2008, and that the Obama Justice Department’s dismissal of a civil suit brought in the waning days of the Bush administration would encourage more voter intimidation cases.

And then there were the defendants: the New Black Panther Party, the Obama Justice Department and the media, which for the most part, ignored the incident and year-long controversy over the partial dismissal as it festered on conservative blogs, fed by a You Tube video showing two members of the racist fringe group standing outside a majority black polling station in Philadelphia in military-style garb.

A few journalists and members of the New Black Panther Party showed up. The Justice Department didn’t, deciding to offer up Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez at a separate hearing on May 14 away from the spectacle of Friday’s four hour hearing.

Hans von Spakovsky, seated left, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), seated in the foreground, and members of the New Black Panther Party at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on Friday (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice)

Six uniformed members of the New Black Panther Party and a few associates also attended the hearing equipped with newspapers that claimed the party was “under fire” from the commission, right wing conservatives and The Washington Times. During the hearing, the Panthers were seated in the second and third rows of the hearing room next to controversial former Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky and later behind Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.).

But this wasn’t a trial, insisted Commissioner Gail Heriot. “No one is on trial here – not the members of the New Black Panther Party, not the witnesses to the incident, not the DOJ lawyers who initially filed this lawsuit, and not the DOJ officials who ultimately decided to terminate the lawsuit except in a very minor, minor aspect,” she said.

The commission had a duty to investigate such matters, said Heriot, one of two commissioners who switched from Republican to independent during the Bush administration, allowing two additional Republicans to be appointed without violating the rule that no more than four members of a party may serve on the commission at the same time.

All that was missing for the trial was a defense team. Even those commissioners who disagreed with the commission’s focus on the matter wanted nothing to do with the New Black Panthers. “This is not a defense of the Black Panthers, this is not to belittle anything that the witnesses saw or heard, but it is about the greater issue of what this commission is really all about, a mission that we have been sorely lacking within the last five years,” said Commissioner Michael Yaki. “It is to me about one thing — partisan payback. There is nothing about this report that talks about how this goes to a broader question about voting rights enforcement.”

Members of the New Black Panther Party were subdued during the meeting, sitting quietly in their chairs and occasionally whispering to one another. At one point, when a Panther tried to hand out a statement from the party to members of the audience, a commission staffer asked him not to, and he obliged.

Minister King Samir Shabazz takes photos at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice)

At another point, Minister King Samir Shabazz stood up and took photos of the commissioners, those testifying and the audience.

During brief intermissions, the Panthers lobbied the commissioners, pointing out that they suspended Shabazz until January 2010 because of his actions. After three and a half hours, the group left, taking up positions on the corner of 9th and G Streets NW where they handed out newspapers to passersby.

Some Republican members of the commission argued that this incident had broader implications for the Voting Rights Act and drew analogies to the persecution of civil rights activists in the 1960s.

“One of the turning points was the national TV pictures of ‘Bull’ Connor turning dogs and hoses on the civil rights marchers,” Gaziano said. “After that national viewing, Americans who wanted to believe it wasn’t as bad couldn’t do so.”

“So the fact that the YouTube was viewed by hundreds of thousands and broadcast on national TV raised the awareness of this issue so that would you agree with me that the dismissal is a bigger problem than not filing where the evidence is ambiguous?” asked Gaziano.

Poll watchers Mike Mauro, Chris Hill and Bartle Bull at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on Friday (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Some of the Republican members of the commission have sought to  prove politics were a factor in the handling of the case. They have pressed to hear testimony from Justice Department lawyers J. Christian Adams and Christopher Coates, but the Justice Department has resisted, citing a longstanding precedent that insulates career lawyers from having to testify before committees. Thernstorm said she had a problem with subpoenaing career lawyers.

Gregory G. Katsas, a partner at Jones Day and a former acting Associate Attorney General (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

In an attempt to tie the decision to Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, Republicans brought in Gregory G. Katsas, who served in an acting role as Associate Attorney General during the Bush administration.

He testified that in his experience, the Associate Attorney General would have played a role in the decision. Katsas said the White House would have not been consulted about the decision, but would be notified so they could handle press queries after a decision was announced.

At least one Republican on the commission, Abigail Thernstrom, was critical of the focus on what even Republican poll watchers admitted was an isolated incident.

“As much as I abhor the New Black Panther Party, it is nothing in my view but a lunatic fringe group, a few of whose members showed up at one polling place in a largely black, safe Democratic polling place,” Thernstrom said. “There isn’t an analogy to racist whites stopping blacks from voting throughout the Jim Crow South.”

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

President Barack Obama has asked the Justice Department to review Arizona’s controversial new immigration enforcement law, enacted today with Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s signature.

Obama said Friday that immigration reform is a federal issue, and that enacting piecemeal measures at the state level would be leaving the door open to “irresponsibility by others,” reported the Washington Post.

“That includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe,” Obama said, according to the Post.

The investigation would fall to the Civil Rights Division, where Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez has made combating discrimination against Latinos a top priority.

A Justice Department spokeswoman on Friday said the department would look at whether the new Arizona measure violates federal civil rights laws.