The Justice Department’s Special Litigation
Eric Holder’s “apolitical” crusade.

U.S. District Judge J. Leon Holmes


Hans A. von Spakovsky

The ideologues in the Civil Rights Division of the Holder Justice Department are proving themselves to be not only blindly partisan, but legally incompetent. In the process, they are hurting disabled individuals and their families, while costing the American taxpayer big bucks. Americans simply cannot afford the price of this incompetence and ideological zealotry.

Case in point: the persecution of the Conway Human Development Center, an institution for developmentally disabled individuals operated by the state of Arkansas.

In early 2009, the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division filed a complaint against Conway. Its claim: that Conway had “egregiously and flagrantly” engaged in “patterns and practices . . . that violate the constitutional rights of its residents.” Alleging a “substantial departure from accepted professional standards,” the government claimed that Conway had failed to protect residents’ personal safety “by failing to provide the level of habilitation and training necessary to protect the residents’ liberty interests” and that it had substantially departed from “generally accepted standards of care,” refused to provide residents the “most integrated, least restrictive” environment, and “violated the rights of children” by failing to provide them “free appropriate public education.” By “integrated” and “least restrictive,” DOJ meant allowing interaction “with nondisabled persons to the fullest extent possible.”  

This, despite the lack of a single concrete or general complaint on the part of any resident of the center or any resident’s family members or guardian!

In a painstakingly detailed 85-page opinion, U.S. District Judge J. Leon Holmes concluded that the Civil Rights Division’s claims were almost all baseless. The Conway Center’s practices and procedures, he found, were not only “permitted” but well “within the bounds of generally accepted practice.”

Judge Holmes assailed both the caliber of the government’s witnesses — calling them “unpersuasive . . . [and] not qualified” — and the Justice Department’s rationale for pursuing the complaint in the first place. “Most lawsuits are brought by persons who believe that their rights have been violated,” he wrote. “Not this one.”

Indeed, the concerned parents and guardians of the Conway patients opposed the division’s claims. Many parents went so far as to take the witness stand to defend Conway: “We’re happy that he’s in an environment where we know he’s safe and he’s going to get good sound medical care,” testified Michael Black about his teenage son. “I can rely on them,” said another parent.

All the testimony by those actually connected with the Conway Center revealed a “genuine love and care for the residents,” according to Judge Holmes. “Thus,” he added, “the United States is in the odd position of asserting that certain persons’ rights have been and are being violated while those persons . . . disagree.”

The DOJ’s charges also were inconsistent with the government’s own evaluation of the center. As an authorized recipient of Medicaid funds, the Conway Center met all the standards set by the Department of Health and Human Services for proper and humane care. Yet this seemed of no import to the ideologues in the Special Litigation Section, who blithely credited the judgment of agenda-driven DOJ bureaucrats over that of medical professionals and health-care experts at HHS.

The Conway case was “dismissed with prejudice.” That’s quite a statement about the failure of the staff in the Special Litigation Section and the political appointees in the Civil Rights Division who supervise them. Take Jonathan Smith, who, before being appointed the chief of the litigation section, spent nearly ten years directing the liberal non-profit Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. He had previously spent another nine years at the D.C. Prisoners’ Legal Services Project. With such ideologues leading the suit against Conway, it is little surprise that the case was so long on politics and so short on law.

During the Clinton administration, the Civil Rights Division was sanctioned in eleven different lawsuits, paying out more than $4.1 million in attorneys’ fees and costs for filing frivolous and unwarranted lawsuits. By comparison, the much (and unfairly) criticized Bush Civil Rights Division had not a single such case.