The New Civil Rights Division vs. The Old Civil Rights Division.

Charlie Savage writes that a new inspector general's report on the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department will tell us what we already knew about how the division was run by political appointees under George W. Bush prior to the tenure of former Attorney General Michael Mukasey -- as an agency completely uninterested in fulfilling its historical mission of protecting the civil rights of minorities:

The 180-page report, obtained by The New York Times, is densely packed with statistics about civil rights enforcement by the division’s sections. The accountability office also examined a sampling of matters that were closed without further action, finding several cases — including the curtailed voter intimidation inquiry — in which supervisors rejected the recommendations of career lawyers to go forward.

The report represents a comprehensive review of the division’s litigation activity in the Bush administration. When compared with the Clinton administration, its findings show a significant drop in the enforcement of several major antidiscrimination and voting rights laws. For example, lawsuits brought by the division to enforce laws prohibiting race or sex discrimination in employment fell from about 11 per year under President Bill Clinton to about 6 per year under President George W. Bush.

The study also found a sharp decline in enforcement of a section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits electoral rules with discriminatory effects, from more than four cases a year under Mr. Clinton to fewer than two cases a year under Mr. Bush.

Keep in mind that this was occurring during a time in which Bush-era political appointees were screening candidates for career lawyer positions based on political sympathies, race, and sexuality, and where career lawyers and analysts were subject to racial and sexual harassment. It was a climate so hostile almost all the black lawyers in the division left. 

The report is being released today, as the first oversight hearings centered around the conduct of the Civil Rights Division under Obama begin. Republicans, who are living in a world in which they believe the history of voting-rights discrimination begins and ends with the overwrought case involving the New Black Panther Party last year, (a case I've written about previously) will attempt to draw an equivalence between the Bush Civil Rights Division, which was riddled with ethics scandals and which political appointees attempted to turn into a partisan operation, and the current administration, which is back doing what the Civil Rights Division was meant to do. 

In the meantime, the Republican assault on the voting rights of minorities continues apace, so flagrantly that a  federal judge in New Jersey denying the GOP the use of voter suppression tactics wrote matter-of-factly, “It does not appear that the R.N.C.’s incentive to suppress minority votes has changed since 1982." The Republican lawyer argued that since the attorney general, president, and RNC chair are black, racism no longer exists. So, there shouldn't be anything wrong with voting restrictions that have the effect of suppressing minority votes. It's a theme with these guys.

-- A. Serwer

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