Magazine August 11, 2014, Issue

The Department of Social Justice

Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department, by John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky (Broadside, 272 pp., $27.99)

If you care at all about justice, you will find John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky’s well-written and thoroughly researched new book highly welcome. It functions like a klaxon, an alarm warning a slumbering public that the nation’s largest and most powerful legal organization is not just thoroughly politicized but effectively out of control.

If, instead, you care more about “social justice” — the distortion of justice that seeks preferred (leftist) real-world outcomes and cares little for process — you will view Obama’s Enforcer not as an alarm but as a road map, a guidebook for hijacking a powerful bureaucracy and reshaping it into an engine of “progress” while building internal firewalls to defeat any externally imposed reforms.

Fund and von Spakovsky outline in painful detail how, under Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama accelerated the transformation of the Department of Justice into the most powerful partner in an activist-industrial complex that works on virtually every front — not just from the top down, but also from the bottom up — to facilitate the fundamental “transformation” of America that then-candidate Obama promised in October 2008.

While the book catalogues the more prominent scandals — it includes the best, clearest summary of Operation Fast and Furious I’ve ever read — the real spadework is evident in its demonstration of how the Department of Justice not only circumvents democracy, but also enriches its ideological allies and suppresses internal dissent.

Take, for example, the DOJ’s Environment & Natural Resources Division (ENRD) — a division described in the book “as simply an extension of Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, or the Sierra Club.” In its zeal to implement a radical environmental agenda, the ENRD is prone to file lawsuits and make legal arguments that are — in the words of one court — “so thin as to border on the frivolous.”

An independent judiciary can theoretically act as a check on the ENRD’s zeal, but what if the game is rigged? One of the book’s most disturbing sections demonstrates how the ENRD actively cooperates with outside advocacy groups to transform environmental law — and also enrich the outside groups with millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded legal fees.

Here’s how the scheme works: Unwilling or unable to work through Congress or the conventional regulatory process to pass new environmental laws, a radical environmentalist group (like, say, Earthjustice, the former employer of a past head of the ENRD) files a lawsuit seeking a court order enforcing an entirely new environmental standard. The DOJ, rather than vigorously defend existing law, chooses to surrender and then cooperates with the outside activist group in crafting an agreed settlement that binds the government to new environmental standards. In at least 60 cases between 2009 and 2012, the DOJ, in cooperation with the EPA, chose not to defend against environmentalists’ claims, agreeing instead to settle the lawsuits by signing “consent decrees” that essentially function as new environmental regulations.

This “sue and settle” practice resulted, Fund and von Spakovsky report, in “more than 100 new federal rules, many of which are major rules with estimated compliance costs of more than $100 million annually.” And, because the DOJ and the EPA “lost” the cases (by refusing to mount a defense against the lawsuits), the radical environmental group is entitled to a substantial attorneys’-fee award.

The authors describe the end result as follows:

By colluding with their political and ideological allies in the radical environmental movement, the administration can essentially short-circuit the regulatory process and implement whatever rules the administration wants by throwing the case, failing to defend, waving the white flag of surrender, and agreeing to a settlement that has what both sides (who are really on the same side) want.

Does that sound like a constitutional democracy at work?

And that’s merely one example of comprehensive misconduct, in a book replete with such examples.

Equally disturbing is the extent to which some of the nation’s most radical lawyers are now deeply entrenched in the DOJ bureaucracy, where they purposefully and unashamedly create a hostile work environment for dissenters.

The Civil Rights Division, even as it files cases motivated more by ideology than by the applicable facts and law — even as it has been recently reprimanded by a federal judge for using “shockingly coercive tactics” against defense witnesses — has also been cultivating an atmosphere of mockery, retaliation, and derision against any conservative who dares join the division. According to a current employee, the administration has “embedded” in the Division some extremist lawyers who believe the “ends justify the means.” The employee says:

Their policy is to intimidate and threaten employees who do not agree with their politics, and even moderate Democrats have left the department because they were treated as enemies by administration officials and their lackeys. Another black employee who has worked for the Justice Department for decades said to me that “there is no justice left in Justice under this administration.”

Because of civil-service job protections, these embedded radicals will be at the Department of Justice for decades to come, doing incalculable damage to the rule of law — in the name of “social justice.”

No mere book review can capture the sheer scale of the corruption. For that, you must read the book. And the corruption Fund and von Spakovsky detail is not the menial corruption of bribes and kickbacks, but an ultimately more destructive one: the perversion of constitutional processes to protect those in power and to create and enforce radical policies through extra-constitutional means.

Name the Justice scandal, and Fund and von Spakovsky have researched it and explained it in excruciating detail. From Fast and Furious to wiretapping journalists to the politically motivated attack on Gibson Guitars, the authors have written the definitive takedown of what may be a lawless administration’s most lawless agency.

What is to be done? While the book closes with a series of suggestions, the authors have no illusions about the challenge:

There is no way to know how long it will take to repair the damage that Eric Holder has done to the management and operation of the Justice Department. One thing we do know for sure — it will take a great deal of work by a new attorney general who is willing to take on the activists that Holder will have embedded within the career civil-service ranks of the department. And it will take political willpower and steadfastness of a kind that is rarely seen in Washington.

One might add that this new attorney general will be fought every step of the way by the embedded activists Holder leaves behind, by the full weight of the outside activists he’s enriched, and by the media that have long protected him. For them, social justice demands no less.

But we must not concede this ground. And to fight well, we must know the terrain. In Obama’s Enforcer, Fund and von Spakovsky have mapped it out well indeed. The hills are high, and they bristle with the considerable media and legal firepower of a lawless Left. But charge them we must.

Justice demands no less.

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Nixon Rises Again

In December 1965, a 27-year-old journalist with slick black hair and pudgy cheeks, a Columbia Journalism School grad who had spent three years churning out conservative editorials for the St. ...


Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ The real tragedy here is what’s happening to John Kerry’s Nobel Prize prospects. ‐ If the Obama administration were a baseball game, this would be the seventh-inning stretch. He had ...
Politics & Policy


THE FINAL IKON He felt that he would find it, Find it yet – The clarity he sought With all his breath. And when he had found it? Why did he grieve? And why did he find ...

Most Popular


No One Is Ever Woke Enough

Closing out the week: The Harper’s letter calling for freedom of expression demonstrates that no one is ever “woke” enough, and that any institution that tries to make peace with the perpetually aggrieved eventually becomes dysfunctional; the value of Hamilton as a litmus test of the limits of cancel ... Read More

No One Is Ever Woke Enough

Closing out the week: The Harper’s letter calling for freedom of expression demonstrates that no one is ever “woke” enough, and that any institution that tries to make peace with the perpetually aggrieved eventually becomes dysfunctional; the value of Hamilton as a litmus test of the limits of cancel ... Read More