AG urged to purge Civil Rights staff af­ter Obama

Watch­dog: Bush hired solely con­ser­va­tives

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

Con­ser­va­tive schol­ars have urged At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions to purge “ide­o­log­i­cal rot” that’s fes­tered in the de­part­ment’s Civil Rights Di­vi­sion un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion through in­ter­nal re­forms meant to re­verse par­ti­san­ship in the agency.

But lib­eral groups, seiz­ing on a rec­om­men­da­tion that po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees rather than ca­reer bu­reau­crats play a role in the hir­ing process, ar­gued this week that such a move would be a re­turn to hir­ing prac­tices al­ready deemed im­proper and il­le­gal un­der the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The po­lar­iza­tion over the is­sue un­der­scores how much the di­vi­sion’s pri­or­i­ties can shift from one pre­vail­ing po­lit­i­cal wind to the next.

The 25 con­ser­va­tives who au­thored the let­ter to the Jus­tice De­part­ment urg­ing re­forms wrote that un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Civil Rights Di­vi­sion “served purely ide­o­log­i­cal ends with rigid­ity un­matched in other fed­eral of­fices.”

Among sug­gested re­forms, they said the as­sis­tant at­tor­neys gen­eral in each di­vi­sion “must pre­serve or reac­quire hir­ing author­ity and not leave the de­ci­sions in the hands of ca­reer bu­reau­crats who are re­li­ably op­posed to Pres­i­dent Trump’s agenda.”

For lib­eral groups, who al­ready worry that their vic­to­ries on polic­ing, vot­ing rights and LGBT is­sues will be rolled back un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, the sug­ges­tion was alarm­ing.

The Civil Rights Di­vi­sion “has the awe­some re­spon­si­bil­ity of en­forc­ing our na­tion’s civil rights laws, and en­sur­ing equal treat­ment and equal jus­tice un­der the law for all Amer­i­cans,” the coali­tion of lib­eral groups in­clud­ing the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, the Lawyers’ Com­mit­tee for Civil Rights Un­der Law and the Amer­i­can Constitution So­ci­ety for Law and Pol­icy wrote this week. “For that rea­son, the Di­vi­sion’s ca­reer staff must not be politi­cized by the in­com­ing Jus­tice De­part­ment po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees.”

Carolyn Fred­er­ick­son, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Constitution So­ci­ety for Law and Pol­icy, pointed to a highly crit­i­cal 2008 watch­dog re­port that found a po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee un­der the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion had en­gaged in a par­ti­san hir­ing cam­paign to bring con­ser­va­tives into the Civil Rights Di­vi­sion.

“The im­pact on the civil rights di­vi­sion was pal­pa­ble and neg­a­tive,” she said, adding that work on vot­ing rights and po­lice over­sight also dwin­dled dur­ing that time.

Dis­crim­i­na­tion against fed­eral job ap­pli­cants based on po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion is il­le­gal. But “hir­ing peo­ple who share the pol­icy views of the ad­min­is­tra­tion is some­thing that can be ap­pro­pri­ately con­sid­ered,” said Roger Clegg of the Cen­ter for Equal Op­por­tu­nity, one of the 25 con­ser­va­tives who wrote to Mr. Ses­sions.

Qual­i­fied but con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing lawyers who ap­plied for jobs in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion weren’t be­ing given a fair shake, he said.

“We are a democ­racy and elec­tions have con­se­quences,” Mr. Clegg said. “When the peo­ple spoke and de­cided the ad­min­is­tra­tion should take a dif­fer­ent tack, the Amer­i­can peo­ple have the right to see that trans­lated into pol­icy with­out ca­reer bu­reau­crats un­der­min­ing it.”

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