No He Didn't! (Bush Record on Civil Rights)

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 4:15 PM EDT

As Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe points out, President Bush's attempt to kiss and make up with the NAACP last week came as the "Bush administration is quietly remaking the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights." According to the Globe:

The documents show that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003, after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds.

Enterprise reporting! We love it! Chase the link, the details are outrageous.

We've already blogged on how Bush's NAACP cameo was too little, too late. On a related point, last week, during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Edward Kennedy (exhorting the administration to support reauthorization of the Voting Rights act) got into the whole hypocrisy gap with Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, noting that:

"The Bush administration Civil Rights Division has litigated only three lawsuits on behalf of African-American voters; two of which were initiated by Attorney General Reno." And furthermore, the DOJ is currently "in the process of litigating the department's first-ever alleging discrimination against white voters."
(Full transcript of Kennedy/Gonzalez face-off is after the jump)

Close readers of the Washington Post might feel a little déjà vu over this whole kerfluffle. Back in December, the Post's Dan Eggen reported that:

"The Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act cases, marking a significant change in the procedures meant to insulate such decisions from politics, congressional aides and current and former employees familiar with the issue said."
A few weeks earlier, Eggen pointed out that:
Nearly 20 percent 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 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.

At the same time, prosecutions for the kinds of racial and gender discrimination crimes traditionally handled by the division have declined 40 percent over the past five years, according to department statistics. Dozens of lawyers find themselves handling appeals of deportation orders and other immigration matters instead of civil rights cases.

(Graphic to that end is here. The numbers don't lie.

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SEN. KENNEDY: ….Now, the House of Representatives passed the Voting Rights Act. I'd like to know whether your position -- the administration's position is for passing the House-passed bill without amendments.

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: I don't know if I'm in a position to state that we will-- as an administration that we're going to support that. I can tell you we've had some very productive discussions on the bill, and I have every expectation that we're going -- that the bill's going to be reauthorized.

And the president is on record, as I'm record, saying we fully support the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I'm -- we're moving along in a very timely way, and the House has moved along; the chairman is having a mark-up tomorrow afternoon. And we want to know where the administration is. We had thought we'd -- I'd ask you previously about this issue. We're -- as I say, time is of enormous importance. Requests have been made to the majority leader to get the time to deal with this in the last few weeks of the Senate session. I'm very hopeful that that'll be the case. The chairman has pressed this; the majority leader knows it. It'll be enormously important to the success of the legislation if we had the strong support of the administration to support the House- passed legislation. And that's my question again.

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, I'm not in a position to say formally what our position is. But as you say, it's moving along, and it's going to move along.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, do you -- can I say, do you have -- if you can't give --say a yes, can you tell us at least where -- what the areas are that you are --want to alter or change in any way?

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, we want to ensure that the language is
sufficient that it will withstand challenge because it will undoubtedly be challenged.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well --

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: But Senator, we -- you know, we have every expectation the Voting Rights Act is going to be reauthorized. We fully support the reauthorization. And I wish I could say more, but I can't, Senator.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I appreciate it. We're looking -- and the time's moving along. I want to cover some other areas, but this is enormously important.

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: It is important. It's important to me too.

SEN. KENNEDY: And to you, I'm sure.

We had a situation -- not only is it important to get an act passed, but also then get the enforcement of it. This is important because from 2000 and 2004 elections, the department didn't file a single lawsuit relating to either of those elections on behalf African-American voters. The Bush administration Civil Rights Division has litigated only three lawsuits on behalf of African-American voters; two of which were initiated by Attorney General Reno.

And just last week, the department filed a complaint against Euclid, Ohio, the first voting rights lawsuit investigated and filed on behalf of African Americans. And this is -- it's been more astounding when one considers that the Bush departments in the process of litigating the department's first-ever alleging discrimination against white voters. So it's -- this is -- the record. We need to get a good bill, and we need the assurances of the enforcement. And this is --

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Senator, may I just say that the chairman expressed some concerns in response to newspaper stories about the record of the Civil Rights Division, and we provided to him a discussion about our record in this area. And we'll share a copy with you to -- which I think supports, certainly my view, that the Civil Rights Division is doing a good job in protection of civil rights.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I'll just mention that. I'm not going to have time to go through the Section 5, where the career attorneys were overruled in the Texas case and also overruled in the Georgia case. And even your department didn't find any problem with the -- what they -- has been labeled the $20 fee. Some of them called it a poll tax, and not surprisingly, it's been struck down again.

Let me, if I could, go quickly to the immigration bill.

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: One thing on VRA, I can say we support the bill passed by the House. I've stated the administration's SAP. So I can say that.

SEN. KENNEDY: Just -- could you repeat it one more time so we all --

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: We support the bill passed by the House as stated in the administration's SAP.

SEN. KENNEDY: As stated in the what?

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: In the administration's position on the legislation.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, the problem with administration's position -- and this is -- the administration supports the legislative intent. That's what it says, "legislative intent," and that's what you're saying now. We support the bill, but -- and the administration's statement. But your statement isn't saying that you support the bill. So you're not -- I don't want to be splitting hairs --

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: This is -- I know this is important to you. It's important to me. Let me see if during the day we can get some information and get it to you.

SEN. KENNEDY: All right. If we could get very strong on it -- I will tell you that it would be enormously significant and important.