Much has been written about the supposed politicization of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice during the Bush administration. This isn’t surprising; the career ranks of the division have long been a refuge for radicals, with a high concentration of some of the most left-wing lawyers anywhere in the federal government. The fact that Bush’s political appointees tried to bring a sense of balance into the division absolutely infuriated the career staff and led to constant battles, as well as to media leaks and dubious claims of partisanship.
To see how unbalanced the division is, and how the new administration is moving quickly to restore liberal politics to the policy forefront, look at DOJ’s conference participation. Every year, the division sends staff to attend the annual conferences of several different organizations, with the trips paid for by the American taxpayer. When the Bush appointees arrived in the division, they noticed that the only conferences the division attended were those staged by mostly liberal organizations. On a list that included organizations the National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Bar Association, there wasn’t a single conservative organization — not one.
To try to balance out the list and provide a more diverse point of view, the annual convention of the Federalist Society was added to the list. The Federalist Society has a Civil Rights Practice Group (of which I am a member) that organizes presentations on voting, employment, disability, and the other issues that come up at the division.
Keep in mind that the list of conferences that division employees could attend each year usually ranged from six to ten, and a single conservative event was added to this list. So division employees were still getting a predominately liberal view of civil-rights law through these conferences. Now, however, they could attend one conference where conservative views of the law would be debated.
Indeed, the Federalist Society doesn’t offer positions on questions of law and policy, but sponsors debates among opposing viewpoints in which — horror of horrors — conservative and libertarian scholarship is presented alongside the usual panoply of left-leaning scholars. Thus, it’s not uncommon to hear from ultra-liberals like Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals at Federalist Society events, alongside with an originalist scholar like Steven Calabresi.
Nevertheless, this caused a lot of grumbling among the career lawyers. To them, just trying to balance out the conferences with one organization not overtly to the extreme left of the majority of Americans was “politicizing” the division.
That concern has certainly been taken care of by the new leadership at the Justice Department. The Civil Rights Division has just posted a list of the conferences that employees will be able to attend this year on its internal website. Eight conferences are listed, but the Federalist Society has been dropped. A single dissenting voice is too much for the Left. Depoliticizing the Civil Rights Division apparently means making sure that only liberal philosophies are heard there.