Ideological Purity in the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division

This week we have my final post citing from Jay Sekulow’s Undemocratic. Yes, it involves more infuriating behavior from bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Justice. It will make you cringe, or at least shake your head in amazement. It will probably make you wonder how in the world we (as a nation) allowed this to kind of thing to become part of government culture. Regardless, it is good to be informed, so that we can make others aware and hopefully, possibly take steps — even if just by writing in and supporting corrective legislation — to reform that culture.

DoJ's Civil Rights Division seal“When I worked for the IRS [as a trial tax attorney for the Office of the Chief Counsel back in the Carter & Reagan administrations], politics rarely came up. In fact, I don’t think I remember a single explicitly political conversation while on the job. To this day I don’t know the political leanings of many of my former colleagues…. In such an environment, partisanship would have raised a red flag, and I have little doubt that a number of us would have immediately acted to stop any bias before it could do real harm. Things have changed with the agency today.

But what if the workplace in many agencies is now fundamentally different? What if the political leanings of your colleagues are not only well-known but almost universal? Would you feel like risking your own job to stop abuse?

What if that political bias was so open and notorious that dissenters either couldn’t get a job or found working conditions so intolerable that they had to leave? There would be no whistle-blowers, and abuses could rage on, unchecked, for years until — perhaps by chance — a reporter or member of the public could bring them to light.

In a key division of today’s Department of Justice, this intolerant ideological uniformity is quickly becoming a reality.

There are few divisions in the Department of Justice more important than the Civil Rights Division. While U.S. attorneys are on the front lines, prosecuting criminals and maintaining law and order, attorneys in the Civil Rights Division ideally make sure that all American citizens enjoy their most basic constitutional and statutory rights. And given our nation’s fraught and violent racial history, its key role is enforcing civil rights laws. The DOJ describes its mission like this:

The Division enforces the Civil Rights Acts; the Voting Rights Act; the Equal Credit Opportunity Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act; the National Voter Registration Act; the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act; the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act; and additional civil rights provisions contained in other laws and regulations. These laws prohibit discrimination in education, employment, credit, housing, public accommodations and facilities, voting, and certain federally funded and conducted programs.

Given this key role, nonpartisanship — vital for every federal agency — is absolutely imperative. The politics of race and gender are among the most contentious and potentially explosive in the United States, and before the full weight of the federal government is brought to bear, citizens expect, and deserve, careful, neutral consideration of the merits of cases and the merits of any given legal position.

Unfortunately, however, key personnel in the Civil Rights Division are doing their absolute best to shred any last remnants of neutrality and fairness in division decision-making, even to the point of hounding and threatening conservative employees and hiring almost exclusively from organizations with a radical leftist bias.

In March 2013, in response to numerous congressional complaints, the Department of Justice inspector general released a lengthy report on the operations of the Civil Rights Division’s key Voting Section, the section charged with protecting the right to vote, obviously a key constitutional right and a foundation of our democracy.

The findings were startling.

Many of those individuals told the (Office of the Inspector General) OIG that they believed that the reason the voting rights laws were enacted was to protect historic victims of discrimination and therefore the Section should prioritize its resources accordingly. Additionally, some of these individuals, including one current manager, admitted to us that, while they believed that the text of the Voting Rights Act is race-neutral and applied to all races, they did not believe the Voting Section should pursue cases on behalf of White victims.

Moreover, the treatment of conservative employees was startling. The inspector general said it was ‘surprised and dismayed at the amount of blatantly partisan political commentary that we found in e-mails sent by some Voting Section employees on Department computers.’ The report went on to detail the abuses that were nothing short of astonishing:

Karen Lorrie, [not her real name] a non-attorney employee in the Voting Section, initially denied under oath to us that she had posted comments to websites concerning Voting Section personnel or matters. Later in her second OIG interview she admitted that she had posted such comments, identified several of the statements that she had posted, and acknowledged that she had lied under oath in her first OIG interview. She also told the OIG that she understood that the comments she had posted would remain on the Internet and follow the targets in the future. Lorrie told the OIG that she posted comments online as a way of ‘relieving the never-ending stress on the job.’

In other words, not only did a career bureaucrat attack colleagues online, but she lied under oath about those attacks. But that’s not all. Career employees kept using the Internet as a weapon against their own colleagues, resorting to language that was both unprofessional and “juvenile.” Again here’s the inspector general:

a-review-of-the-operations-of-the-voting-section-of-the-civil-rights-divisionDuring this period, at least three career Voting Section employees posted comments on widely read liberal websites concerning Voting Section work and personnel. The three employees who we were able to identify with certainty included three non-attorney employees. Many of the postings, which generally appeared in the Comments section following blog entries related to the Department, included a wide array of inappropriate remarks, ranging from petty and juvenile personal attacks to highly offensive and potentially threatening statements. The comments were directed at fellow career Voting Section employees because of their conservative political views, their willingness to carry out the policies of the CRT division leadership, or their views on the Voting Rights Act. The highly offensive comments included suggestions that the parents of one former career Section attorney were Nazis, [and] disparaging a career manager’s physical appearance… speculation that another career manager was watching pornography in her office, and references to ‘Yellow Fever,’ in connection with allusions to marital infidelity involving two career Voting Section employees, one of whom was described as ‘look[ing] Asian.’

It just keeps getting worse. Threats of physical violence were not out of bounds, with indications that the threats were backed up by actions, like monitoring individuals’ movements in the office — monitoring that was ‘disturbing’ in context:

We found other postings by career Voting Section employees that contained intimidating comments and statements that arguably raised the potential threat of physical violence. For instance, one of the employees wrote the following comment to an article concerning an internal Department investigation of potential misconduct by a Section manager: ‘Geez, reading this just makes me want to go out and choke somebody. At this point, I’d seriously consider going in tomorrow and hanging a noose in someone’s office to get myself fired, but they’d probably applaud the gesture and give me a promotion for doing it….’ Some postings by Section employees contained statements that could be viewed as disturbing, such as comments that monitored managers’ movements in the office and described their actions.

Keep in mind, the choking threat came from a “Section manager,” not a low-level intern or a temporary employee on a work-release program from prison.

Now back to the ‘sue and settle’ discussion…. There was evidence that DOJ attorneys cooperated with sympathetic liberal groups so completely that they would share confidential legal information:

We also found incidents in which Voting Section career staff shared confidential Section information with outside civil rights attorneys, some of whom were working on matters where they were adverse to the Department.

Abuses in the Civil Rights Division were not unique to the Obama administration. Indeed, the inspector general found problems during the Bush administration as well, but that’s hardly a surprise. The problem of government is not a problem with a particular administration but rather systemic, where a lack of accountability combines with partisan rancor and pervasive incompetence to create a crisis of justice….

This approach to justice is intolerable. And yet until there’s meaningful civil service reform, it’s virtually unstoppable…. [I]t’s time to introduce private sector rationality to public sector employment, and nowhere is it more vital than in the Department of Justice, where entrenched corruption means that you can not only lose your rights, you can even lose your most basic liberties….

There will be no reform without accountability. There will be no justice without reform.”

It both angers and grieves me to think that such outright partisanship and just plain mean-spiritedness has become evident even in places like the U.S. Department of Justice. But, when attitudes of victimhood, entitlement-thinking, and an agenda of ideological purity are encouraged — particularly on the political left –, and those people become entrenched in the government bureaucracy, it should be expected that such ugliness would develop and eventually be discovered. Reform won’t happen overnight, but we can let our representatives in Washington, D.C., know that it is an important issue that they need to address.


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