Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why Congressional Investigations Into Bush Administration’s Politicalization of Justice Department and Firing of U.S. Attorneys Are So Important

When House Republicans walked out Thursday, in part to protest a resolution citing former White House counsel Harriet Miers and current chief of staff Joshua Bolten for contempt of congress for failing to obey subpoenas in connection with the controversial dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 and 2007, they wanted you to believe that the Democrats’ action is nothing more than a political witch hunt. As is usual for the rhetoric coming out of Republicans these days, nothing could be further from the truth.

The record is replete with reliable evidence that this administration has broken federal civil service law by packing career positions at Justice and other federal agencies with lawyers who are religious and ideological zealots, often from tier four (i.e. the lowest tier) law schools such as evangelist Pat Robertson’s Christian based, Regent University Law School.

“Not long ago, it was rare for Regent graduates to join the federal government. But in 2001, the Bush administration picked the dean of Regent's government school, Kay Coles James, to be the director of the Office of Personnel Management -- essentially the head of human resources for the executive branch. The doors of opportunity for government jobs were thrown open to Regent alumni…

Their path to employment was further eased in late 2002, when John Ashcroft, then attorney general, changed longstanding rules for hiring lawyers to fill vacancies in the career ranks.

Previously, veteran civil servants screened applicants and recommended whom to hire, usually picking top students from elite schools.”

“As the dean of a lower-ranked law school that benefited from the Bush administration's hiring practices, Jeffrey Brauch of Regent made no apologies in a recent interview for training students to understand what the law is today, and also to understand how legal rules should be changed to better reflect "eternal principles of justice," from divorce laws to abortion rights.” Id.

"We anticipate that many of our graduates are going to go and be change agents in society," Brauch said.” Id. At page 3.

In fact, before the Bush Administration took over in 2001, most career attorney hires came from a law school with a ranking in the top 15 schools nationwide. By 2006, this average ranking had dropped to top 65 schools nationwide. Reason for the drop, over 150 hires from Regent Law School alone. Reason for concern? You bet.

As a criminal defense lawyer and son of a former Justice Department official, the idea that the federal government’s career attorneys are no longer crème de la crème, but rather, are hired on the basis of some kind of ideological litmus test, is absolutely outrageous and dangerous. Couple this with the scandal over the unprecedented mid-administration dismissal of the 9 U.S. Attorneys, who are, although political appointees, supposed to make decisions as the chief federal law enforcement officers of their districts in an unbiased and non-political way. There is mounting evidence that many of these dismissals were in response to their refusing to engage in politicized behavior.

Congressional oversight hearings, which only got underway after the Democrats retook bare majorities in both houses, are uncovering the sordid truth including pressure on U.S. Attorneys to bring questionable voter fraud prosecutions lawsuits in election year 2004. This type of voter suppression conduct is expressly verboten by official Justice Department policy. But hey, with the paragons of right-wing virtue that are the Republican party these days, the ends always justify the means, whether its national security, our international reputation or respect for civil liberties and the rule of law.

"It used to be that high-level DOJ jobs were generally reserved for the best of the legal profession," wrote a contributor to The New Republic website. ". . . That a recent graduate of one of the very worst (and sketchiest) law schools with virtually no relevant experience could ascend to this position is a sure sign that there is something seriously wrong at the DOJ."

That last statement says it all.

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