David Kirkpatrick

June 24, 2008

Politicizing Justice

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:43 pm

John Ashcroft turned out to be one of the early, and surprising, good guys in the Bush 43 administration — most notably on his push-back against then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales on warrantless wiretapping. All that said, his run at the head of the Department of Justice was less than perfect.

One of the more struturally damaging aspects of the DOJ under Bush 43 has been the blatant, and illegal, politicization of the hiring practices at the department, bringing in scads of underqualified graduates of third-rate at best Christian law schools simply because the candidates had what I’ll charitably term “Bush conservative” bona fides.

A black mark on Ashcroft’s mixed legacy will be setting this process into motion.

From the second link:

The blistering report, prepared by the Justice Department’s inspector general, is the first in what will be a series of investigations growing out of last year’s scandal over the firings of nine United States attorneys. It appeared to confirm for the first time in an official examination many of the allegations from critics who charged that the Justice Department had become overly politicized during the Bush administration.

“Many qualified candidates” were rejected for the department’s honors program because of what was perceived as a liberal bias, the report found. Those practices, the report concluded, “constituted misconduct and also violated the department’s policies and civil service law that prohibit discrimination in hiring based on political or ideological affiliations.”

The shift began in 2002, when advisers to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft restructured the honors program in response to what some officials saw as a liberal tilt in recruiting young lawyers from elite law schools like Harvard and Yale. While the recruitment was once controlled largely by career officials in each section who would review applications, political officials in the department began to assume more control, rejecting candidates with liberal or Democratic affiliations “at a significantly higher rate” than those with Republican or conservative credentials, the report said.

The shift appeared to accelerate in 2006, under then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, with two aides on the screening committee — Michael Elston and Esther Slater McDonald — singled out for particular criticism. The blocking of applicants with liberal credentials appeared to be a particular problem in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which has seen an exodus of career employees in recent years as the department has pursued a more conservative agenda in deciding what types of cases to bring.

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