The US Attorney scandal has exposed the Bush Administration's politicization of the Department of Justice, but it not the first time that the DOJ has been used the Administration in their effort to turn it into an adjunct of the Republican Party.
A recent pair of articles portray the dismantling of the DOJ's Civil Rights division, which foreshadows what happened with the firing of the US Attorneys for political purposes.
The first, by Joseph Rich -- the chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's civil right division from 1999 to 2005 -- who explains his role:
I spent more than 35 years in the department enforcing federal civil rights laws — particularly voting rights. Before leaving in 2005, I worked for attorneys general with dramatically different political philosophies — from John Mitchell to Ed Meese to Janet Reno. Regardless of the administration, the political appointees had respect for the experience and judgment of longtime civil servants.His LA Times piece, Bush's long history of tilting Justice, describes the change:
Under the Bush administration, however, all that changed. Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.As he noted:
The scandal unfolding around the firing of eight U.S. attorneys compels the conclusion that the Bush administration has rewarded loyalty over all else. A destructive pattern of partisan political actions at the Justice Department started long before this incident, however, as those of us who worked in its civil rights division can attest.The other, similarly titled Bush's long history of politicizing justice, by Alia Malek, a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division October 2000 to March 2003 , explained the evolution in detail in her Salon article:* * * *It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.
At least two of the recently fired U.S. attorneys, John McKay in Seattle and David C. Iglesias in New Mexico, were targeted largely because they refused to prosecute voting fraud cases that implicated Democrats or voters likely to vote for Democrats.
Since George Bush took office, his administration has been not so quietly dismantling the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, which is responsible for enforcing the nation's civil rights laws, and doing it for the same reason the eight federal prosecutors were fired: to use the enforcement power of the federal government for Republican gain. Instead of attending to the Civil Rights Division's historic mission, addressing the legacy of slavery by enforcing anti-discrimination laws, the Bush administration has employed the division to advance the political agenda of a key GOP constituency, the Christian right and also, quite literally, to get Republicans elected.This article provides a detailed look at the political process used by the Administration, with impunity, to corrupt the Civil Rights Division. Although a few articles were published about the issue, see, e.g., Civil Rights & Estate Taxes, not much attention was paid before now. Yet, the damage was done. As Malek observes:* * * *As it was happening, current and former employees tried to alert the outside world, with little success. But with the spotlight on the department and its attorney general, momentum may finally be building. Last week, a House Judiciary subcommittee held oversight hearings on the Civil Rights Division, and witnesses testified to the changes the Bush administration had effected there.* * * *
The Bush administration's actions over the past six years seem almost prima facie evidence that it does view civil rights enforcement -- which had traditionally been on behalf of African-Americans, women and other racial, ethnic and religious minorities -- as a partisan matter. In perhaps a case of projection, it seems to have also expected career people to abuse their power on behalf of partisan goals.
Thus the administration sought to recast the division in its own image, by minimizing outside input, getting rid of career people and hiring loyal Bushies. Simply choosing John Ashcroft, a religious fundamentalist and political conservative, as the attorney general immediately indicated that Bush's promises to heal and unite the nation after the 2000 election did not translate into Cabinet choices that would reflect the divided political mood of the country.
History books will likely not be kind to the Bush administration. The consequences of the administration's actions, however, extend far beyond the fate of any one elected official.
Optimists believe that once this administration's term comes to an end in 2008, the division may once again be able to enforce the nation's civil rights laws without regard to partisan motives. Others, like Joe Rich, are more pessimistic. "They can try to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again," Rich told Salon, "but you've lost career people with the institutional memory to do that." In his testimony on Capitol Hill, Rich asserted that only "vigilant oversight" would restore the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Justice to their historic role of leading the enforcement of civil rights and protection of equal justice under the law.
Similarly, if the Bush administration is not penalized by the voters or their elected representatives for treating the Department of Justice as a political tool, there is nothing to stop successive administrations -- whether Republican or Democrat -- from doing the same when it's their turn in power.
John DiIulio, who served as the head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said in Why Are These Men Laughing?:
"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," says DiIulio. "What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."
The Administration: Politics is all.