Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 1, 2009

RESTORING THE INTEGRITY OF THE DOJ'S CIVIL RIGHTS DIVISION.... It competed with a lot of other scandals, but the Bush administration's efforts to gut the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division was a national disgrace.

Far-right attorneys suddenly were given employment priority. Career staffers were pressured out of their jobs. Cases without merit were pushed by political appointees. All of a sudden, a department that existed in large part to protect the integrity of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and shield African American voters from discrimination, started prosecuting "reverse" discrimination cases.

In one infamous instance, career lawyers with strong performance ratings were forced out of the department because loyal Bushies decided it was time to "make room for some good Americans." "Good Americans," of course, meant "conservative Republican Americans unconcerned with civil rights." Seriously.

The Obama administration is starting the process of putting things right.

Seven months after taking office, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is reshaping the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division by pushing it back into some of the most important areas of American political life, including voting rights, housing, employment, bank lending practices and redistricting after the 2010 census.

As part of this shift, the Obama administration is planning a major revival of high-impact civil rights enforcement against policies, in areas ranging from housing to hiring, where statistics show that minorities fare disproportionately poorly. President George W. Bush's appointees had discouraged such tactics, preferring to focus on individual cases in which there is evidence of intentional discrimination.

To bolster a unit that has been battered by heavy turnover and a scandal over politically tinged hiring under the Bush administration, the Obama White House has also proposed a hiring spree that would swell the ranks of several hundred civil rights lawyers with more than 50 additional lawyers, a significant increase for a relatively small but powerful division of the government.

The division is "getting back to doing what it has traditionally done," Mr. Holder said in an interview. "But it's really only a start. I think the wounds that were inflicted on this division were deep, and it will take some time for them to fully heal."

The damage inflicted on this department by loyal Bushies is unforgivable. Holder's efforts are exactly what's needed to undo the mistakes.

How can we be sure the Justice Department is on the right track? Hans von Spakovsky has accused the Obama team of "nakedly political" maneuvers.

Hans von Spakovsky is, of course, a revolting, dishonorable figure from Bush's team, who was a leading player in the administration's "vote-suppression agenda." If he's outraged, sane people everywhere can take comfort.

Adam Serwer's item today rang true for me: "Reforming the civil rights division may seem like a small thing. But I honestly believe the most lasting damage the Bush administration did to American society was in the Justice Department, where torture was 'legalized,' the right to vote became conditional, and the job of upholding the nation's laws was entrusted to ideologues and religious fanatics who were hired based on their partisan loyalties. I think we've only begun to understand how much American society was warped by these developments, and how important it is to reverse them."

Holder is getting that process started. It is, to borrow a phrase, change I can believe in.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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It will be "change I can believe in" when the Obama DOJ starts investigating crimes committed by the Bush Criminal Enterprise!

Posted by: SadOldVet on September 1, 2009 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

How can it be reversed? Next GOP president will simply stuff the DOJ once again with hard core racist conservatives and the cycle will repeat.

Posted by: MNPundit on September 1, 2009 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

"Hans von Spakovsky" -- gawd, what a perfect name for a villain, and, in real life, what a perfectly despicable human being -- just a vile man.

But the reinvention of civil rights in this country by the current administration does nothing to prevent the denial of such rights again, if and when the Repugnants return to power.

Posted by: neill on September 1, 2009 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

'bout time Holder began de-Bushifying the DoJ. Liberty U grads should be forced to take a law review exam since that is a law school in name only. I fear for those employees who also lost their memories like so many others in that department following Gonzos lead.

Glad to see it's begun. Maybe we will even see Siegleman get some Justice from the DoJ...starting with getting rid of Laura Canary and her pet judge. Can't happen fast enough

Posted by: bjobotts on September 1, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Absolutely the most un-sexy but most important corrective action by Obama.

Maybe someone should point out that these changes are also easy exactly because not many people pay attention to the details.

The next step, already envisioned, is to further insulate career lawyers from political influence.

Posted by: tomj on September 1, 2009 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

In many ways I thought the DOJ, US Attorney firing scandal may have been the worst of all because it went right to the heart of America as a nation governed by Rule of Law. The 93 US Attorneys have within their hands the power to destroy lives. To think that this enormous enforcement power would be misused by one political party to torment or destroy its political enemies is truly frightening. An independent judiciary and Department of Justice sworn to apply our laws fairly and impartially is what separates our democracy from those elsewhere that are democracies only in name. It's why Karl Rove needs to prosecuted and if convincted punished to the fullest extent of the law. Rove literally tried to change the character of this country to advance his own political party.

Posted by: Ted Frier on September 1, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

"The division is "getting back to doing what it has traditionally done," Mr. Holder said in an interview. "But it's really only a start. I think the wounds that were inflicted on this division were deep, and it will take some time for them to fully heal."

I remember reading, and laughing at, a post on one of my liberal blogs that stated that the Bush DOJ had turned the Civil Rights division into the Civil WHITES division, to make sure repressed whites weren't taken advantage of from "Others".

Posted by: barkleyg on September 1, 2009 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

It's remarkable to read the liberal paranoia on this blog.

It's definitely a different universe....but since the columnist yesterday remarked that Barack Obama, Joseph Biden and Harry Reid were all 'moderates,' I can understand the mental confusion...

Posted by: John C on September 1, 2009 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Don't just fix the DOJ! The EEOC is in the same condition. Big increase in complaints filed during 2008. Big decrease in finding complaint cause. Microscopic referral of complaints against state and local government to the DOJ. No enforcement or overview of federal contract EEO compliance requirements. How bad has it gotten? One US City recently went all the way to a state supreme court with the singular argument that its EEO Policy was not really a law, but was only a local ordinance that was without social benefit!

Posted by: horizon on September 1, 2009 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

For me the litmus test of whether the Demos and Repubs are ready to begin restoring integrity to the legal system is confronting the War on Drugs, and addressing the massive abuses and legal violations that have occurred. There are over a million people, mostly people of color, serving time for victimless "offenses", which is a scandal of historic proportions. I think it's ridiculous to speak of concern with civil rights as long as black and brown kids are being put into prison to be raped, tortured and abused, and countless families broken up for no reason at all. Especially when wealthy white substance abusers, such as Ted Kennedy, responsible for someone's death while drunk driving, are almost always allowed to walk.

Posted by: mike on September 1, 2009 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

The DOJ needs to investigate what's happening in Georgetown, GA, in the southwestern part of the state. Georgetown is on the Chatahoochee River and is far enough inland that hurricanes have lost their punch by the time they get there. Last election a new tough guy sheriff was brought in from outside and won a surprising victory. Some say it was a rigged election. He's using gestapo tactics on the poor landowning town's people, supposedly in the war on drugs.

What's really happening is that developers have gotten their people elected to county commisions and are trying to run off the poor blacks and whites so that they can completely take over the town. By harassing these people the developers hope that the poor will mortgage or sell their properties to pay their legal fees and fines.

It's racial warfare (no blacks on police department) and it class warfare where the sheriff is the weapon of the rich to separate the poor from their property. This technique has been used elsewhere in Georgia and in other states.

This incident was instigated by the police. The excuse for harassment is always 'a tip'.


Please pass this along.

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