Sunday, July 23, 2006

Foxes and Chicken Coops

This makes sense from a wingnut point of view. If you can't get rid of a division you hate, just fill it with people who hate it every bit as much as you do:

The Bush administration is quietly remaking the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights, according to job application materials obtained by the Globe.

The documents show that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003, after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds.

In an acknowledgment of the department's special need to be politically neutral, hiring for career jobs in the Civil Rights Division under all recent administrations, Democratic and Republican, had been handled by civil servants -- not political appointees.

But in the fall of 2002, then-attorney general John Ashcroft changed the procedures. The Civil Rights Division disbanded the hiring committees made up of veteran career lawyers.

For decades, such committees had screened thousands of resumes, interviewed candidates, and made recommendations that were only rarely rejected.

Now, hiring is closely overseen by Bush administration political appointees to Justice, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.

The profile of the lawyers being hired has since changed dramatically, according to the resumes of successful applicants to the voting rights, employment litigation, and appellate sections. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Globe obtained the resumes among hundreds of pages of hiring data from 2001 to 2006.

Hires with traditional civil rights backgrounds -- either civil rights litigators or members of civil rights groups -- have plunged. Only 19 of the 45 lawyers hired since 2003 in those three sections were experienced in civil rights law, and of those, nine gained their experience either by defending employers against discrimination lawsuits or by fighting against race-conscious policies.


Many lawyers in the division, who spoke on condition of anonymity, describe a clear shift in agenda accompanying the new hires. As The Washington Post reported last year, division supervisors overruled the recommendations of longtime career voting-rights attorneys in several high-profile cases, including whether to approve a Texas redistricting plan and whether to approve a Georgia law requiring voters to show photographic identification.

In addition, many experienced civil rights lawyers have been assigned to spend much of their time defending deportation orders rather than pursuing discrimination claims. Justice officials defend that practice, saying that attorneys throughout the department are sharing the burden of a deportation case backlog.

As a result, staffers say, morale has plunged and experienced lawyers are leaving the division. Last year, the administration offered longtime civil rights attorneys a buyout. Department figures show that 63 division attorneys left in 2005 -- nearly twice the average annual number of departures since the late 1990s.

At a recent NAACP hearing on the state of the Civil Rights Division, David Becker , who was a voting-rights section attorney for seven years before accepting the buyout offer, warned that the personnel changes threatened to permanently damage the nation's most important civil rights watchdog.

``Even during other administrations that were perceived as being hostile to civil rights enforcement, career staff did not leave in numbers approaching this level," Becker said. ``In the place of these experienced litigators and investigators, this administration has, all too often, hired inexperienced ideologues, virtually none of which have any civil rights or voting rights experiences."

A civil rights watchdog? More like hiring foxes to mind the chickens. All in a day's work for the wingnuts, because the Civil Rights worth defending belong to the government. Or to Christian white men with property.