J. Christian Adams, the conservative activist hired in the Voting Rights Section of the Justice Department during an era of politicization, recently wrote that "The Bush Civil Rights Division was willing to protect all Americans from racial discrimination; during the Obama years, the Holder years, only some Americans will be protected."
By the numbers, we know that this isn't true--civil rights enforcement, particularly voting rights protections designed to protect minorities, declined during the Bush years, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office released last year. But let's take a look at what the Voting Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division was like under Bush. Here are a few highlights from the lawsuit filed by Joi Hyatte, a legal analyst who sued the Department of Justice in 2008 for refusing to promote her because she was black, despite consistently strong performance evaluations. Hyatte and the DoJ settled, and she was eventually promoted.
Let's take a look at a few of the incidents cited in the complaint, shall we? Here's one:
For instance, on February 12, 2007, three male Caucasian attorneys within the Voting Section, all hired by Mr. Tanner, made racially and sexually derogatory remarks about two female analysts, one Caucasian and one African-American, within the Voting Section. The attorneys mocked the Caucasian analyst for displaying pictures of prominent African-American civil rights activists and leaders on the walls of her office. They also commented that she had a “tight ass,” and referred to both women as “lesbians” and “carpet munchers.”
Here's another one involving former Voting Section Chief John Tanner:
For example, in an October 2007 address to the Georgia State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“NAACP”), Tanner made light of police harassment of African-Americans. Tanner suggested that Georgia’s proposed voter identification law disproportionately impacted whites, who are not used to carrying identification because they do not live with fear of such harassment. Tanner said, “You think you get asked for ID more than I do? . . . I've never heard anyone talk about driving while white.”
The joint Office of Professional Responsibility/Inspector General's report that concluded the former head of the Division, Bradley Schlozman, had violated civil service laws with his hiring practices, suggests these kinds of "jokes" were regular fare in Tanner's Voting Rights Section:
In that incident in August 2004, Voting Section Chief John Tanner sent an e-mail to Schlozman asking Schlozman to bring coffee for him to a meeting both were scheduled to attend. Schlozman replied asking Tanner how he liked his coffee. Tanner’s response was, “Mary Frances Berry style – black and bitter.” Berry is an African-American who was the Chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from November 1993 until late 2004. Schlozman forwarded the e-mail chain to several Department officials (including Principal DAAG Bradshaw) but not Acosta, with the comment, “Y’all will appreciate Tanner’s response.”
So to reiterate: Tanner makes a racist joke to his boss. Racist jokes in the office are seen as so mundane and acceptable that Schlozman then forwards the racist joke to other employees in the division. This is the "race-neutral" Bush era in the Civil Rights Division. Schlozman himself once referred to a black attorney in the section as an "affirmative action hire" who "spoke ebonics."
It also wasn't just Voting Section Chief John Tanner, who ultimately resigned in 2007 over making racially charged remarks, who contributed to the racially hostile atmosphere in the section. One of his lieutenants, Yvette Rivera, was known for berating black employees, downgrading their performance evaluations, and and distributing favorable tasks that could lead to promotions or monetary rewards only to white or Latino employees. From Hyatte's complaint:
While Ms. Rivera was Ms. Hyatte’s supervisor, she told Ms. Hyatte that Ms. Hyatte was “very clean,” implying that Ms. Rivera believed African-Americans typically had poor hygiene or were dirty people.
Or how about this one?
For example, in 2006, Ms. Rivera called Ms. Fontanelle into her office and advised Ms. Fontanelle that she should invest in her child’s education instead of spending all her money on clothes, and that she should not allow her child to watch TV all day. Ms. Fontanelle understood Ms. Rivera to be implying that she and other African- Americans were unfit and inattentive parents.
Surely people didn't simply remain silent about such conduct did they? No, they didn't, at least one other black employee filed an EEOC complaint. But the Bush DoJ didn't do anything about it:
During Mr. Tanner and Ms. Rivera’s tenure as Voting Section managers, multiple employees complained to DOJ and union representatives of discriminatory hiring practices and hostile working conditions in the Voting Section as a result of Mr. Tanner and Ms. Rivera’s conduct. Notwithstanding these complaints, DOJ failed to investigate
the allegations or take remedial action.
There weren't any "exclusives" on FOX News either.
Again, this is why there were two black lawyers had left in the Division by 2007. This is the kind of atmosphere Adams thinks is appropriate for an government office devoted to protecting Americans' rights at the ballot box.
For what it's worth, Hyatte told me last year that since Tanner left and the section has returned to aggressively protecting voting rights, "morale has improved dramatically, people seem happy to come to work again and do their job." Hyatte added that "these are the changes people wanted to see."
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