January 24, 2009 | Commentary on Legal Issues
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, himself a political appointee in the Clinton administration, has released his report on the supposed "illegal" political hiring at the Civil Rights Division of George W. Bush's Department of Justice. [Full disclosure: I served four years as a career lawyer in CRD during the Bush era -- apparently to little notice since the report barely mentions me in passing.] Fine issued the report just days before Attorney General nominee Eric Holder's confirmation hearing. That timing seemed aimed at providing maximum political benefit to Fine's fellow Democrats.
The political left, which never seems to tire of attacking the Bush Justice Department as corrupt, greeted the report with glee. But a dispassionate read can produce only sadness -- sadness that an official report can be so thickly laced with bias, inaccuracies, gross exaggerations, and deliberate misrepresentations of both facts and the law. It is also sad that the biases of those producing the report prevented them from highlighting the blatant examples of ideologically-driven hiring that occurred at Justice when Eric Holder was the Deputy Attorney General.
The report unintentionally demonstrates that what really upset Washington's Liberal Establishment was its temporary loss of power at the CRD. Activist special interests had exercised exclusive control over the Civil Rights Division for decades -- especially with respect to its hiring practices. When that rein was briefly interrupted by outsiders determined to enforce the laws as they are written, the old regime found the situation intolerable.
The Bias of the Report's Authors
The New York Times identifies Fine and Marshall Jarrett, the head of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which helped prepare the report, as "two veteran Justice Department watchdogs." Yet the OPR lawyer Jarrett assigned to conduct the investigation, Tamara Kessler, is a liberal former Civil Rights Division lawyer who actually worked alongside many of the leading critics identified in the report. Equally incredible, one of the Inspector General's lawyers assigned to probe the hiring practices of former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brad Schlozman, was none other than Mark Masling, also a former Civil Rights Division attorney and self-proclaimed "proud Democrat." In other words, there was never even any pretense of neutrality, distance, or objectivity. One would think that two "veterans" like Fine and Jarrett would recognize the importance of avoiding personal bias and the basic conflict of interest in having liberal former CRD career lawyers investigating the hiring of CRD career lawyers. Yet both overlooked or deliberately ignored this obvious impropriety.
The bias exhibited by Fine and Jarrett should not surprise. Consider their history in investigating (or, more accurately, ignoring) misconduct by career Civil Rights Division attorneys. Every lawyer knows, for example, that one of the worst things you can do professionally is to reveal the confidences of your client and the legal advice you have provided. Yet when liberal career lawyers leaked internal, privileged memoranda to the media and the Congress on cases like the Texas congressional redistricting and the Georgia voter ID law, Fine and Jarrett exhibited no interest whatsoever in scrutinizing these offenses. (The leakers, of course, complained bitterly about ideological hiring, which is perfectly legal.) The same was true when a particularly strident liberal attorney in the Division -- while still employed there -- contacted the target of an investigation and offered to represent that jurisdiction following his departure! That is an absolute violation of the professional code of conduct. When "watchdogs" repeatedly reveal a history of applying what seems to be a politically oriented one-way ratchet, one cannot expect fairness in their report.
The Skewed Report
The report issued by Fine and Jarrett reads more like a work of fantasy than a sober investigation. For example, the report claims that Schlozman hired only two "Democrats or liberals" during his tenure in the Civil Rights Division. This is utter nonsense. As at least a few media outlets grudgingly acknowledged, Schlozman provided the Inspector General Special Agent on the case a list of more than 25 individuals that he, Schlozman, knew were ideologically liberal or committed Democrats and who he had hired into line attorney or supervisory positions during his tenure in the Division.
Yet Fine and Jarrett rebuffed Schlozman's request that they include this information in the report. Instead, they opted to libel him, apparently to stir up Democratic hostility and thereby pursue their transparently political ends. The Schlozman list squarely rebuts the report's allegation of a political litmus test in hiring. The fact that such critical information was omitted demonstrates emphatically that Fine and Jarrett knowingly and deliberately misrepresented the facts to bolster their false and pre-determined findings.
The report also faults Schlozman for hiring 63 lawyers who were "Republican or conservative." As a threshold matter, the unstated (but quite clear) implication of this point is that conservative attorneys are somehow less qualified than liberal attorneys to work in the Civil Rights Division. I have no doubt that many of the Department's employees genuinely believe this. Perhaps this is why the Division has such a well-deserved reputation as a refuge of the radical left and why a virtual "No Vacancy" sign has historically been posted for any conservative who dared seek employment there.
Of course, in a Division known for its zealous enforcement of racial preferences and general hostility to law enforcement, it is unlikely that many conservatives even wanted to work in the Division prior to the Bush administration. So the fact that a significant number of conservatives came on board only after 2000 shouldn't be a shock to anyone.
When I was hired as a career lawyer in 2001 (two years before Schlozman even arrived), I was greeted with unrelenting hostility by the career staff once they discovered that I had a conservative philosophy and had been active as a volunteer in the Republican party. I was one of just two conservatives in the entire Voting Section, which had more than 80 lawyers and support staff. It was made crystal clear to me that the attorneys and staff considered anyone with a conservative ideology to be unqualified to work as a career civil servant, and they were absolutely furious that, despite their usual screening efforts, I had been hired.
This attitude was prevalent throughout the entire Division of almost 750 people. I mention this because, even if the claim about the 63 lawyers is correct and even if all such individuals remained today (which they clearly do not), it would mean that about 8 percent of the employees in Civil Rights today are conservatives. Yet even that 8 percent gives liberals such angst that trumped up inquiries are necessary.
It is hardly a secret that, until Ralph Boyd, the first Bush Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, changed the hiring procedures in 2001, the liberal career managers (many of whom have complained the loudest) made sure that no conservative applicants for career positions were hired. Searching for a conservative in the Civil Rights Division prior to 2001 was like Diogenes searching for an honest man in ancient Greece. The Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility were provided evidence of this discrimination during their investigation, but they were not interested in examining the hiring practices of the pre-Bush era. The one-way political ratchet once again.
It's a shame that Fine and Jarrett refused to look at the past. Few may know, for example, that on December 12, 2000, when Eric Holder was the Acting Attorney General and the Supreme Court issued its decision in Bush v. Gore, the Clinton political appointees realized that Democrats would lose control of the Justice Department. At that time, there were more than two dozen open career lawyer positions in the Civil Rights Division. In a federal government that usually takes months to fill career positions, the Clinton appointees (spearheaded by Acting Assistant Attorney General Bill Yeomans, now chief counsel to Sen. Ted Kennedy) filled all of those positions before Inauguration Day!
Every one of those hires was a liberal or a Democrat and, based on Yeomans emails, was sure to be "loyal." Based on what I saw when I arrived in the Division, this same hiring pattern had clearly been practiced during all eight years of the Clinton administration. Indeed, I cannot identify a single conservative who had been hired during the Clinton years. Neither Fine nor Jarrett ever expressed any interest in investigating this blatant "political" hiring either.
Naturally, Fine and Jarrett relied heavily on these same liberal partisans/career attorneys in preparing their deceptive report. It's not like these "witnesses" are beyond reproach. In fact, one of the primary attorneys cited in the report is a defendant in a federal discrimination lawsuit. Her reputation for verbally abusing her staff is legendary (or infamous) in the Division and her exploits have been chronicled on the blog, "Above the Law." One of the Appellate Section attorneys who figured prominently in the report -- a Clinton political appointee who burrowed into the career civil service and then claimed she was victimized by the Bush political appointees -- was promoted to a policymaking counsel position in the Division's new front office on the very first day of the Obama Administration. This is a slot normally reserved for political appointees. You just can't make this stuff up.
Admittedly there were some insensitive comments in some of the emails cited in the report and some inappropriate humor, too. But the report blows them out of proportion. Schlozman was too brash at times and could have chosen his words more wisely. But it is obvious to anyone who knows him -- and it should be transparent to rational individuals who do not know him -- that Schlozman was simply engaging in the type of e-mail humor and rhetorical banter that many in Washington (and much of the country for that matter) participate on a daily basis. The poor jokes don't establish that hiring improprieties occurred, and seem to be offered more to poison the well.
Flawed legal Analysis
The report is also simply wrong in its legal analysis. It wrongly conflates political affiliation with ideology. It mistakenly claims that hiring on the basis of "ideology" is illegal under the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA). There is absolutely no case law to support such an interpretation, nor would it make sense for there to be.
What is illegal under the CSRA is hiring on the basis of "political affiliation," which is not at all the same as ideology. In fact, the single appellate opinion cited in the report emphasizes that only political affiliation is an illegal consideration. Of the more than 200,000 emails the report claims were reviewed, investigators reference not a single one that showed that any individual was hired or fired for a career attorney position because of his or her political affiliation as a Republican or a Democrat. The only emails highlighted in the report are emails in which comments were made regarding individuals' ideologically liberal or conservative views of the law.
This is not to say that all ideologies are acceptable. The Inspector General or Office of Professional Responsibility would certainly not find any wrongdoing if the Civil Rights Division refused to hire an otherwise qualified lawyer who was an avowed racist (or who refused to follow the Brown v. Board of Education decision). It would be eminently appropriate to discriminate against such an individual -- based on his ideology -- because he could not be trusted to properly enforce the panoply of anti-discrimination statutes falling with the Division's bailiwick. Such consideration is not only legal, but it is often quite necessary in a Division where the opportunity to abuse the federal government's enforcement authority is so significant and where the historical evidence of such abuse is so acute.
Political ideology can also have significant consequences in litigation policy. When liberal career lawyers had free rein during the Clinton administration, the Division was penalized over $4.1 million in costs and attorneys' fees for pursuing frivolous, vexatious, and unwarranted litigation. That's $4.1 million of your taxpayer dollars. This figure is not the least bit surprising based on my experience. I found that many of the career lawyers in the Civil Rights Division gave grossly flawed legal positions in which they sought to expand the statutes within the Division's jurisdiction far beyond their lawful reach. Too many of these attorneys allowed their political views to permeate their legal judgment and to override their professionalism. The conduct of some may have been unintentional, but others were simply partisan advocates masquerading as career civil servants.
I shook my head in agreement -- as did many others I know -- when I read an email cited in the report where Schlozman lamented about certain Criminal Section prosecutors who were "big libs [who] would enforce certain of our statutes only with great reluctance." Schlozman was almost certainly referring to the fact that the Division had problems with career lawyers in its Criminal Section who resented the Division's dedication of substantial resources towards human trafficking cases over police misconduct cases, or who refused to pursue death penalty cases based on their personal opposition to capital punishment. The bottom line is this: lawyers are tasked with zealously representing their clients and pursuing cases -- within the limits of the law -- whether or not the lawyers like their clients or agree with their positions.
Too many of the liberal career staff simply refused to follow those precepts. When the Voting Section commenced its first case against black officials in Noxubee, Mississippi, for discriminating against white voters, some liberal career lawyers weren't just reluctant to work on the case, they refused to work -- despite evidence of blatant and intentional discrimination. In fact, the career section chief sought to suppress the lawsuit recommendation and would have been successful but for a diligent line attorney who advised the front office of the chief's duplicity. The Section won its discrimination case, but the line attorney was ostracized by other career lawyers.
During my time in the Division I saw more than one memorandum where liberal lawyers would leave out key facts, misrepresent applicable case law, and otherwise manipulate their legal opinions to match their political views -- all because they did not agree with the Division's priorities. For example, they did not believe in enforcing a section of the National Voter Registration Act that requires election officials to regularly clean up or "purge" their voter rolls of ineligible voters who have died or moved away. Six liberal career lawyers were so upset when the first NVRA enforcement case was filed, they tried to use my involvement in that litigation to block my nomination to the FEC. They just could not tolerate that we had dared to override their refusal to enforce this federal legal requirement.
It was those kinds of attitudes and those kinds of actions that no doubt led Brad Schlozman to seek to hire individuals who, regardless of their own personal politics, would actually enforce the law according to the policy determined by the administration. Why would he want left-wing ideologues who would try to stop or sabotage such enforcement efforts?
The painfully partisan IG report gives the liberal career lawyers who overwhelmingly populate the Civil Rights Division their revenge against the Bush administration. Now they can go back to running things the way they always have -- at the beck and call of the Democratic party and radical left-wing civil Rights organizations.
And for all of the Inspector General's railings against so-called "political hiring," don't bother applying to the Civil Rights Division if you have anything in your background that indicates you are a conservative. You haven't got a chance of being hired by these guys.
Hans A. von Spakovsky is a visiting legal scholar at the Heritage Foundation. He is also a former commissioner on the Federal Election Commission and counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice.
First Appeared in the Weekly Standard