President Obama’s last head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division was Thomas Perez, a highly controversial radical. Perez is now the secretary of the Department of Labor. (He was confirmed in July this year by a vote of only 54 to 46.) When looking to replace Perez at the DOJ, President Obama could have chosen to improve the Civil Rights Division — after all, the Justice Department’s own inspector general concluded in a report earlier this year that the division was guilty of “deep ideological polarization” and a “disappointing lack of professionalism.”
Instead, Obama has picked someone who clearly shares Perez’s worldview, Debo Adegbile, the senior counsel to the highly partisan Senate Judiciary Committee. He will also be the fourth head of the division who has worked at the Washington office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. This group, which has a rigid view of civil-rights enforcement, has recently lost several high-profile court cases. Just last February, Adegbile went before the Supreme Court to defend Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required that many states (mostly Southern) have all changes to their voting laws precleared either by the DOJ or in federal court. The Supreme Court properly decided that this portion of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, given that much of the data used to decide which states needed preclearance dated from 40 years ago
“His nomination is an in-the-face appointment,” says J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department whistle-blower who documented his disillusion with the Perez Civil Rights Division in his book Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department. “Any thought that Obama would moderate as a lame duck with collapsing poll numbers vanishes with the Adegbile nomination.” He notes that during Adegbile’s time at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the group became increasingly radical, going so far as to oppose criminal-background checks by employers and endorsing extreme racial-hiring quotas.
The Civil Rights Division handles cases far afield of voting rights, enforcing federal statutes that prohibit all different kinds of discrimination. Its decisions under Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have become increasingly bizarre and ideological. A sampler:
It has ignored Supreme Court rulings that curb racial preferences in hiring, by claiming that “disparate impact” can prove discrimination — meaning that an employer is proven guilty of discrimination if its neutral policy can be shown to have a disproportionate impact on some individuals protected by civil-rights law. Under this theory, the Civil Rights Division sued the New York City Fire Department to force them to hire black applicants who had failed employment tests that white applicants had passed. Banks have also been sued under “disparate impact” theory, charged with discrimination if — in an effort to avoid the excessive mortgage lending that led to the 2008 housing collapse — they did not lend enough money to minorities.
The Civil Rights Division has also been such a micromanager of daily life that departing New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg would be proud. It blocked the release of a new version of an Amazon Kindle because the button to make it talk was not in braille. (Of course, regular books have no audio function at all.) It also tried to delay city pools from opening in summer if they didn’t install expensive chair lifts for the handicapped.
As for the positions it’s taken in major cases, the Civil Rights Division has been repeatedly smacked down by courts all over the country. Last year, a three-judge federal panel in Washington, D.C., ruled against Perez’s challenge to South Carolina’s voter-ID law. As Quin Hillyer noted of Perez at The American Spectator:
His positions also have been rebuked by courts in Arkansas (about the Civil Rights for Institutionalized Persons Act), again in the D.C. District Court, in New York on an education case (U.S. v. Brennan), in a Florida abortion case where Perez’s team was abusively prosecuting peaceful protesters, and most particularly in a major Perez loss in Florida when trying to force the state not to remove non-citizens from its voter rolls.
Of course, anyone who criticizes Adegbile during his Senate confirmation hearings will face charges of racism. But rather than launch ad hominem attacks, wouldn’t it be better if Adegbile’s supporters mounted a full-throated defense of his legal positions and that of the current Civil Rights Division? Somehow I doubt they will do that, simply because the vast majority of the American public and federal courts reject them as being either hare-brained or unconstitutional — or both.
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for National Review Online.