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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Racism in the Civil Rights Division

The inauguration of Barack Obama will demonstrate how far we've come -- if not how far we have yet to go -- in dealing with the issue of race in America. In less than a week, we'll watch the first African-American president take office. Phrases like "once unimaginable" and words like "tearful" and "jubilant" will probably get worn out in the media -- both new and old -- in reporting of the event and reactions to it. No matter which side of the aisle you come from, you've got to admit that this is an inauguration a bit more historically noteworthy than the average. Obama represents more than just Executive #44.

But what few will note is that Obama's turn at the wheel represents a drastic change from just a couple of years ago. A new Justice Department report details illegal hiring practices within the department, where employees where chosen for ideological purity rather than experience or merit. As a result, Justice was peppered with young conservative ideologues and Bush loyalists. 150 of these came from Pat Robertson's Regent University -- a third-tier law school that, not surprisingly, does a lot less educating than it does indoctrinating. Justice, under the the leadership of John Ashcroft and then Alberto Gonzales, became home to young, right wing Christian evangelicals and neocons. It was less of a service to the public than a way to build the resumes of the future Republican leadership.

One of these young ideologues, Monica Goodling, pleaded the Fifth in congressional testimony about this debacle. "She forced many very talented, career people out of main Justice so she could replace them with junior people that were either loyal to the administration or would score her some points," a former Justice official told the Washington Post in 2007. The Justice Department -- a law enforcement agency -- had been thoroughly politicized.

Justice's internal probe, whose report was released yesterday without fanfare, found that this was all illegal and improper.

McClatchy Newspapers:

A former acting Justice Department civil rights chief illegally favored conservative job applicants as "real Americans," kept liberal lawyers off key cases and lied in Senate testimony to conceal his misconduct, internal investigators say in a report made public Tuesday.

Bradley Schlozman privately dubbed liberal department lawyers "commies" and "pinkos" and told a subordinate that the Civil Rights Division shouldn't be limited to hiring "politburo members" who belong to some "psychopathic left-wing organization designed to overthrow the government," the department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility found.


The 70-page report, the last to be publicly released on four joint internal investigations stemming from the 2007 scandal over politicization of the Justice Department, was completed in July but had been kept secret pending the outcome of the criminal inquiry.

Despite the finding of discriminatory hiring practices within the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, no one will be charged. I'm sure you're as shocked as I am. You'll probably be just as shocked to find out that Schlozman was a racist. I know, it's a heart-stopping surprise. I'll give you a moment to recover.

In a post at Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson writes that a subject the report "touches on only tangentially" is racism in the Civil Rights Division. Let me repeat that; racism in the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice.

...Schlozman tried to have one “Democrat in hiding” that he oversaw exiled because she: “wrote in Ebonics,” “was an idiot,” and “was an affirmative action thing.”

(The attorney in question graduated magna cum laude from a top law school and was repeatedly praised in her performance reviews for her strong writing and analytical skills.)

There is also [an] email exchange between Schlozman and John Tanner, the Voting Rights division chair who infamously asserted that Voter ID requirements that disadvantage the elderly have no impact on minorities because, “minorities don’t become elderly the way white people do. They die first.”

Schlozman emailed Tanner that he liked his coffee "Mary Frances Berry style -- black and bitter." African-American Berry was a long time chair of the US Commission on Civil rights.

Of course, this is entirely typical of the Bush administration, for which the best person for any job is the person who opposes that job's very existence. You've got oil and coal lobbyists running the EPA, anti-worker union-busters running the Department of Labor, so why not a racist running the Civil Rights Division? It's just the way these things are done these days. No matter what kind of henhouse you've got, you really need a fox to guard it.

Of course, Schlozman denied everything in testimony -- something usually referred to as "perjury" -- but there will be no charges. See, the Justice Department, in their investigation of themselves, decides whether anyone will be charged. Again, it must come as a tremendous shock to find out that the crime of perjury -- something so heinous that Republicans tried to impeach a president over it -- will not be punished by a department seeded with Republicans. Hypocrisy is as rampant on the right as bigotry.

So, when Barack Obama is sworn in on January 20th, remember that this represents not just a drastic change from the time of Martin Luther King jr., but from January 19th.