Under the Radar – In preparation for Election 2006

CIVIL RIGHTS — CHANGES IN JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SAPS OFFICE MORALE: Since 2002, the Bush administration has quietly filled the ranks of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division — the nation’s top enforcer of anti-discrimination laws — with lawyers who have “strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights.” The result, according to William Yeomans, a 24-year division veteran who retired last year, is that “morale among career attorneys has plummeted, the division’s productivity has suffered and the pace of civil rights enforcement has slowed.” Although a committee of career veterans had made hiring decisions for decades, former Attorney General John Ashcroft changed the rules in 2003 to minimize input from staff, allowing the process to be handled completely by political appointees. Consequently, the “clear emphasis” has been to hire individuals with conservative backgrounds. Only 42 percent of employees hired since 2003 have experience in civil rights, as compared to 77 percent of those hired in the two years before the change. There has also been a “sea change” in the types of cases brought by the division: fewer voting rights abuses are being prosecuted, and instead, more interest has been shown in cases of “reverse discrimination against whites and religious discrimination against Christians.” While this was somewhat expected, says Richard Ugelow, who also recently retired, no one “anticipated that it would go this far, that enforcement would be cut back to the point that people felt like they were spinning their wheels.”

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