Over the past six years, the Bush administration has aggressively reshaped the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Many career analysts and attorneys have either been transferred or driven out; their replacements are long on conservative credentials and short on civil rights experience.
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Here's an inside account of what it's like inside from Toby Moore, a redistricting expert with the division's voting section until the spring of 2006. Like many of his colleagues, he left due to the hostile atmosphere in the section, where he says there was a pattern of selective intimidation towards career staff.
According to Moore, his supervisor and the political appointees in the section consistently criticized his work because it didn't jibe with their pre-drawn conclusions. That was bad enough, he said, but the real trouble came after he and three colleagues recommended opposing a Georgia voter I.D. law pushed by Republicans. After the recommendation, which clashed with the views of Moore's superiors, they reprimanded him for not adequately analyzing the evidence and accused him of mistreating his Republican colleague, with whom he'd had frequent disagreements. But it got worse. Moore said that his Republican superiors even monitored his emails, eventually filing a complaint against him with the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility for allegedly disclosing privileged information in one email (he was cleared of wrongdoing). Fed up, and worried that it was too dangerous to his professional future to remain there, he left.
Moore said that his experience was similar to others in the section who'd disagreed with conservative attorneys working at the Justice Department. Over the following year, all three of Moore's colleagues who'd joined him in opposing the law either left or were transferred out of the section. The senior member of the team, Robert Berman, the deputy chief of the section and a 28-year veteran of the Civil Rights Division, was transferred to the Office of Professional Development -- what Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has called "a dead-end job."
The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility opened and conducted an investigation into the section's handling of the Georgia I.D. law. Joe Rich, the former chief of the voting section, told me that he was interviewed by investigators in 2006. It's not clear, however, what the outcome of the investigation was.
"Mr. Moore's allegations about political interference in the Civil Rights Division surrounding the Georgia memo, are very much in line with what we are learning daily about this Justice Department," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) told TPMmuckraker. Nadler is the chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee that held a hearing on the voting section last month. "A clear picture is developing of a department culture that seems to encourage politically-motivated, improper and lawless activity."
The voting section is tasked under the Voting Rights Act with reviewing new legislation in certain regions in order to prevent regulations that might lead to discrimination against minority voters. When Moore and his colleagues examined the Georgia voter-identification law, they found a lot to worry about. Their bosses weren't interested.
"They werenât really interested in investigating Georgia's submission," Moore, who has a Ph.D. in geography and had been with the section since 2000, told me. "They were mainly interested in assembling evidence to support pre-clearance. Any attempt to bring up counter-evidence to suggest a discriminatory impact was ignored or critiqued. We were told it was our own bias.... Any evidence in support was embraced uncritically."
The problems with Georgia's new law were legion, as outlined in the "Recommendation Memorandum" that Moore and his colleagues compiled.
To start with, jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act (mostly in southern states) are required to show that law changes will not have a discriminatory impact on minority voters. In the case of Georgia, the law change would have revised an earlier voter-I.D. law that allowed a variety of forms of identification (such as a utility bill); the new law restricted acceptable forms to photo I.D. But the law's advocates could provide no evidence that African Americans would not be disproportionately affected by the bill. In fact, the law had been pushed largely on the basis of assertions contained in Stealing Elections, a book by conservative journalist John Fund and what was called "anecdotal evidence."
Other evidence pointed even more strongly to nefarious motives behind the legislation. According to the Recommendation Memorandum, Georgia state Rep. Sue Burmeister, the sponsor of the bill, told section staff that "if there are fewer black voters because of this bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud," and that "when black voters in her black precincts are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls."
For that and a host of other reasons, Moore and three of his colleagues recommended against clearing the bill. A single member on their review team, a young Republican lawyer, supported clearance. Yet Moore's team was nevertheless overruled and the bill was cleared. In a telling sequel to these events at the Justice Department, a federal appeals court judge later barred implementation of the law, comparing it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax.
Things went downhill from there.