Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

  Politicizing the Justice Department: Yet further revelations

How bad is the politicization of the Justice Department, when every single day brings new revelations of wrong-doing? Today, McClatchy exposes how Republicans working in DoJ have been advertising their corruption...literally.

This story concerns the Republican National Lawyers Association, which claims to be a group of lawyers and students "who advance the professionalism of lawyers generally" while advancing their "career opportunities" as well. Here is what McClatchy discovered.

According to the group's Web site, [Christian] Adams is one of dozens of Bush administration appointees or civil servants who are members, including at least 25 in the Justice Department...

Their names appeared on the organization's Web site under the heading "Find a Republican Lawyer," in many cases along with their federal government e-mail addresses and work telephone numbers.

While government employees are permitted to be members of political organizations, the prominent listings on the Republican National Lawyers Association's Web site strike some current and former Justice Department lawyers as inappropriate, especially given that several members of the group work in the Justice Department's voting section, criminal division or as assistant U.S. attorneys.

Lawyers in those jobs are supposed to be especially careful to avoid the appearance of partisanship, because of the sensitive political nature of the cases they may handle, including voting access lawsuits and public corruption cases.


After McClatchy began investigating some of the lawyers in question, the information about their federal jobs was removed quickly from the RNLA website. The White House spokesman took pains to assure McClatchy that Frances Townsend, the counterterrorism adviser, is "not active really at all" in the organization.

Everybody involved huffed and puffed that they aren't doing anything wrong, which doesn't quite explain why they're all red-faced about it.

Which raises a larger issue: Why are so many lawyers in the DoJ involved in a partisan political organization? In particular why is anybody working in the sensitive civil rights division, as Christian Adams does, advertising his connection to this hyper-partisan group?

~~~


An explanation was offered by Charlie Savage, who showed that the hiring in the civil rights division has been heavily politicized:

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...

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...

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

"There has been a sea change in the types of cases brought by the division, and that is not likely to change in a new administration because they are hiring people who don't have an expressed interest in traditional civil rights enforcement," said Richard Ugelow, a 29-year career veteran who left the division in 2002.


The new hires are not very interested at all in prosecuting voter-discrimination cases. Instead, as Joseph Rich commented recently, they devote their considerable energies to pursuing alleged cases of voter-fraud.

I spent more than 35 years in the department enforcing federal civil rights laws — particularly voting rights. Before leaving in 2005, I worked for attorneys general with dramatically different political philosophies — from John Mitchell to Ed Meese to Janet Reno. Regardless of the administration, the political appointees had respect for the experience and judgment of longtime civil servants.

Under the Bush administration, however, all that changed. Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.

It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.


The extent of the Bush administration's obsession with rooting out voter fraud is attested by how it reacted to the findings of an expert panel investigating the issue. The federal experts wrote that "there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud". Bush's political appointees, unwilling to abandon the myth of voter fraud, rewrote the report to make it appear that fraud might indeed be widespread nationally.

Just another day at the rodeo for Bush & Co.

~~~


There is of course a method to this seeming madness. Republicans are determined to make it as difficult as possible for likely Democratic voters to cast their ballots. To quote Charlie Savage:

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.


And that's just the tip of a mountain of evidence for systematic Republican efforts to suppress, rather than expand, opportunities for citizens to cast their votes. Want more horror stories? Here's a report from Greg Palast, who discovered in 2004 that the Bush re-election campaign was passing around extensive 'caging' lists for the purpose of challenging masses of minority voters on Election Day.

Indeed that November I had my own encounter with another voter suppression trick. The Bush campaign, having ascertained that my wife and I proposed to vote for the Great Man when hell "froze over", called my house on Election Day and tried to direct us to the wrong polling place. My county Clerk of Elections told me that day that she had received "many" complaints about exactly the same stunt, always regarding the Bush campaign.

So Republicans have blazed many tortured paths toward their goal of suppressing the votes of people who don't agree with them. To distract from their illegal and flagrantly undemocratic practices, they like to promote the notion that "voter fraud" is rampant, and that the GOP's lawyers are therefore the only thing that stands between polite society and...well, I don't know what all.

~~~


Which brings us back to the Republican National Lawyers Association.

Advancing Open, Fair and Honest Elections. The RNLA seeks to promote open, fair and honest elections at all levels of American society in a non-discriminatory manner. It provides election law training from preeminent election law professionals. It responds to requests for assistance from the Republican Party and its candidates by communicating the requests to its members.


C'mon guys, that's much too modest a description of your legendary activities. The RNLA, to quote Digby, "was pretty much formed for the express and exclusive purpose of training and deploying lawyers on matters of purported voter fraud (aka minority vote suppression.)" Here from a history of minority voter suppression (PDF) is a description of its founding:

GOP ballot-security skulduggery in the city of Newark and environs had led to a consent decree in 1982 presided over by a federal judge in New Jersey, according to which the RNC promised to forego minority vote suppression. In 1985, several months before the RNC was hauled back before the same judge as a result of illegal purging efforts in a 1986 Louisiana senatorial campaign and agreed to submit all future ballot security programs it oversaw to the court for its inspection, a new organization was created—the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA).

A group of lawyers who had worked on the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1984 were behind its founding, and it was designed “to be a sort of Rotary Club for GOP stalwarts,” according to a contemporary article in Legal Times magazine...

The RNLA turned out to be much more than a Rotary Club for GOP lawyers, however; it became the predominant Republican organization coordinating ballot security. By its own account, in early 2004 it had grown to “a 1,900-member organization of lawyers and law students in all 50 states.” Its officers were experienced lawyers who knew their way around Washington as a result of having served in Republican administrations at the national and state levels and in major K Street firms. Michael Thielen, its current executive director, who earlier worked for the RNC, describes the organization as follows: Since 1985 the RNLA has nurtured and advanced lawyer involvement in public affairs generally and the Republican Party in particular. It is accurately described as a combination of a professional bar association, politically involved law firm and educational institute. . . . With members now in government, party general counsel positions, law firm management and on law school faculties, the RNLA has for many years been the principal national organization through which lawyers serve the Republican Party and its candidates.


Indeed the RNLA is proud of the central role it played in Bush's success at preventing the recounting of ballots in Florida in 2000. And that's worked out so well for the nation, hasn't it?

~~~


All of this demonstrates, I suppose, that the vote-suppression specialists for the Republican Party are also specializing in using their federal jobs to promote (you guessed it) themselves and the GOP. Inside the NRLA, that's called "professionalism".

crossposted from Unbossed

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