White House to Shift Efforts on Civil Rights
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
The Obama administration is planning to revive high-impact enforcement of civil rights against policies where statistics show that minorities fare disproportionately poorly.
Seven months after taking office, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is reshaping the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division by pushing it back into some of the most important areas of American political life, including voting rights, housing, employment, bank lending practices [swell idea! Too bad nobody ever thought of it before] and redistricting after the 2010 census.
As part of this shift, the Obama administration is planning a major revival of high-impact civil rights enforcement against policies, in areas ranging from housing to hiring, where statistics show that minorities fare disproportionately poorly [i.e. Disparate Impact]. President George W. Bush’s appointees had discouraged such tactics, preferring to focus on individual cases in which there is evidence of intentional discrimination.
To bolster a unit that has been battered by heavy turnover and a scandal over politically tinged hiring under the Bush administration, the Obama White House has also proposed a hiring spree that would swell the ranks of several hundred civil rights lawyers with more than 50 additional lawyers, a significant increase for a relatively small but powerful division of the government.
The division is “getting back to doing what it has traditionally done,” Mr. Holder said in an interview. “But it’s really only a start. I think the wounds that were inflicted on this division were deep, and it will take some time for them to fully heal.”
... Under the Bush administration, the agency shifted away from its traditional core focus on accusations of racial discrimination, channeling resources into areas like religious discrimination and human trafficking.
Uh, what about Alberto Gonzales's successful 2007 discrimination lawsuit, Vulcan Society against the Fire Department of New York, that was 100% Disparate Impact and 0% Disparate Treatment?
... The division has filed about 10 “friend of the court” briefs in private discrimination-related lawsuits since Mr. Obama’s inauguration, a practice that had dwindled in the previous administration.Like Westchester County.
In July, moreover, the division’s acting head, Loretta King, sent a memorandum to every federal agency urging more aggressive enforcement of regulations that forbid recipients of taxpayer money from policies that have a disparate impact on minorities.
... Bush-era changes to the division’s permanent rank may also have lingering effects. From 2003 to 2007, Bush political appointees blocked liberals from career jobs and promotions, which they steered to fellow conservatives, whom one such official privately described as “real Americans,” a department inspector general report found. ...
Can't have that...
Many of their replacements had scant civil rights experience and were graduates of lower-ranked law schools. The transition report says the era of hiring such “inexperienced or poorly qualified” lawyers — who are now themselves protected by civil service laws — has left lasting damage.
Instead, we must have affirmative action admittees from top schools.
... The Civil Rights Division is now seeking to expand those changes. It is developing a new hiring policy under which panels of career employees — not political appointees — would decide both whom to hire and to promote for positions from interns to veteran lawyers. The policy could be completed as early as this month....
Some conservatives are skeptical that such a policy will keep politics out of hiring, however. Robert Driscoll, a division political appointee from 2001 to 2003, said career civil rights lawyers are “overwhelmingly left-leaning” and will favor liberals.
“If you are the Obama administration and you allow the career staff to do all the hiring, you will get the same people you would probably get if you did it yourself,” he said. “In some ways, it’s a masterstroke by them.”
Mr. Holder has elsewhere called for social changes with civil rights overtones, like the passage of a federal hate-crimes law, the elimination of the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and greater financing for indigent defense.
By contrast, he described his Civil Rights Division efforts as more restoration than change. The recent moves, he argued, are a return to its basic approach under presidents of both parties — despite some policy shifts between Republican and Democratic administrations — before the “sea change” and “aberration” of the Bush years.