The Washington Post reported Thursday that the Justice Department has widened an internal probe of hiring practices there, “including the troubled Civil Rights Division.” I worked for four years at the civil-rights division (from 1987 to 1991), and about these “troubles” I’d like to make a few points.
One issue is that, according to the Post story, “career personnel repeatedly clashed with Bush administration political appointees, who overruled them on pivotal voting-rights cases in Georgia and Texas.” There is nothing remotely scandalous about these clashes. I wrote about the Texas dispute on National Review Online last year; the political appointees were quite right to overturn the career folks. The same was true in Georgia as well (where there was, in any event, a split among the career people, although somehow that never gets mentioned).
More broadly, there is nothing sinister or surprising about there being friction between the career people (who tend to be more liberal) and the political appointees (who tend to be more conservative). Judges have different approaches to interpreting the law, and so do government lawyers. And liberals have different enforcement priorities (they like exotic liability theories, for instance, and hate challenging affirmative action) than conservatives (switch around the preceding parenthetical). I explained and documented all this in congressional testimony earlier this year.
Nor is it surprising — and it certainly doesn’t prove illegal partisan hiring — when more conservatives are hired in a Republican administration and more liberals are hired in a Democratic administration. For starters, one would expect more conservatives to apply to Bush than to Clinton, and more liberals to apply to Clinton than to Bush. And while partisan bias is a no-no, looking for philosophical and policy compatibility is not. Would Bobby Kennedy have wanted to retrain Jim Crow-loving applicants, or would he have given an edge to individuals passionately committed to enforcing the civil-rights laws? Likewise, there’s no reason why this administration should prefer not to hire lawyers whose briefs will have to be rewritten and who really aren’t all that interested in working on, for instance, religious-freedom cases.
A big part of what’s going on here is that disgruntled liberal lawyers are out to destroy the reputations of their conservative bosses or former bosses. The latter are not political hacks; the average political appointee is, in my experience, a better lawyer than the average career staffer. In all events, the liberals are not white-lab-coat professionals (the Clinton administration’s civil-rights division had to pay over $4.1 million in penalties for sloppy lawyering). Indeed, those leading the charge against the political appointees now have recently left the division to work for people like Senator Kennedy and organizations like the People for the American Way.
One of the targets — of the career folks and, now, Congress — is Brad Schlozman, who was at one point acting head of the Division and did an outstanding job there, and now, for his trouble, will be appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow. Good luck to him.