Thursday, November 24, 2005

DOJ: Deportation Instead of Civil Rights Enforcement

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division is in the midst of an upheaval that has driven away dozens of veteran lawyers and has damaged morale for many of those who remain, according to former and current career employees. Nearly 20% of the division's lawyers left in fiscal 2005, in part because of a buyout program that some lawyers believe was aimed at pushing out those who did not share the Bush administration's conservative views on civil rights laws. Longtime litigators complain that political appointees have cut them out of hiring and major policy decisions, including approvals of controversial GOP redistricting plans in Mississippi and Texas.

The Justice Department strongly dispute the complaints. DOJ spokesman Eric Holland says the overal attrition rate during the Bush administration, about 13%, is not significantly higher than 11% averaged during the last five years under President Clinton.

But according to department statistics, prosecutions for the kinds of racial and gender discrimination crimes traditionally handled by the division have declined 40 % over the past five years. Dozens of lawyers find themselves handling appeals of deportation orders and other immigration matters instead of civil rights. The division has also come under criticism from the courts and some Democrats for its decision in August to apporve a Georgia program requiring voters to present government-issued identification cards at the polls. The program was halted by an appellate court panel and a district court judge, who likened it to a poll tax from the Jim Crow era.

Source: Washington Post, Nov. 13, 2005

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