When President George W. Bush was in the White House, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division was widely criticized for hiring conservative, politically appointed attorneys with little civil rights experience. Now, conservative activists are trying to turn the table on the Obama administration’s hires, who according to a recent report, have far more extensive experience working on civil rights matters and graduated from higher-ranked law schools.
During an oversight hearing held this week by a House Judiciary subcommittee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) accused critics of running a “Willie Horton campaign” against the Civil Rights Division. Horton, a convicted murderer, was released on a 48-hour furlough through a program advocated by then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Horton did not return to prison as scheduled, and ultimately committed assault, armed robbery and rape in Maryland. When Dukakis ran for president in 1988, the case derailed his candidacy.
“Some of the same people who undermined and discredited the Civil Rights Division while they were there have now made a career of making false allegations against the division from the outside,” Nadler said. ”What is disturbing is that the allegations all have the same subtext that the division is being used to favor minorities to the detriment of whites.”
Indeed, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who chairs the Subcommittee on the Constitution, said that “since 2009, there have been troubling allegations about the conduct of the Civil Rights Division and its personnel.”
He cited as examples the dismissal of voter intimidation cases against the New Black Panther Party and an allegation that the division’s deputy assistant attorney general had instructed the division to only bring cases that benefit racial minorities. Smith also said that at a voter section training session earlier this year, participants were instructed to not enforce voting rights law in a race-neutral manner.
“More troubling about these allegations is that they constitute a clear pattern. If the administration is choosing whom to protect based on skin color, the American people should know there is not equal justice under the law,” Smith said.
Nadler strongly disagreed with Smith and other critics, particularly the division’s former Bush-era employees.
“What they really mean to say is that the division is now making an honest effort to enforce in an even-handed manner our civil rights laws, which the complainers who were previously in the division really don’t like,” Nadler said. “It is a Willie Horton campaign, pure and simple.”
(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)