Voting Rights Distortions

Article excerpt

The Justice Department's Voting Rights section is full of career lawyers pushing abusive policies. Why is the Bush administration offering no resistance?

Bush Appointees Politicize Justice Department." That's the generic headline we've seen hundreds of times, shoehorned into one situation after another. The Bush administration stands accused of the mortal sin of "politicizing the process," of firing federal attorneys who were not sufficiently deferential to its whims, of weeding out top brass who weren't willing to go along with its right-wing, laissez-faire, protorture agenda.

From John Ashcroft to Alberto Gonzales to Michael Mukasey, Bush Justice appointees are cast as ideological crusaders who want to wiretap Sunday school teachers, prosecute magazines for showing women's navels, and set Civil Rights back 40 years. The good guys in this story are the career employees of the Justice Department, who are willing to blow loud whistles and stand their ground in the face of blatant politicization.

The problem with larger media narratives is that, even when they contain some truth, they often stand in the place of serious reporting or analysis. In the slow rollout of the history of the post-9/11 Bush administration, former Attorney General Ashcroft is emerging as a principled defender of Americans going about their business without the government listening in. The picture is contrary to the hundreds of stories at the time that cast him as a scourge of civil liberties and a coverer-up of nude statues.

Likewise, some career employees of the Justice Department are starting to look decidedly less heroic. A great case in point is the staff of the Voting Rights Section (VRS) of the Civil Rights Division. Current and former employees of that department tell a story far different story from the popular media narrative. They talk instead of ideologically corrupt career attorneys pursuing a highly results-oriented agenda and misusing federal power.

They also allege that, far from trying to check the ideological excesses of the VRS, the Bush administration seems resigned to the whims of activists bent on distorting voting rights laws and bullying local.

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION has been routinely castigated by the press and liberal civil rights groups for departing from "fair" and "aggressive enforcement" of civil rights laws. In the 1990s, however, the Voting Rights Section was itself out of control. In seven cases during the tenure of VRS head Joe Rich, a career civil servant, the Department of Justice was fined more than $4 million for bringing frivolous and abusive enforcement actions against local jurisdictions.

In the case of Miller v. Johnson, the department was fined and severely reprimanded for essentially acting at the behest of ACLU and civil rights groups. It helped in devising voting redistricting lines to maximize minority voting power, and then misrepresenting to the courts the extent of that cooperation.

That cooperation should not have been too surprising. The VRS has traditionally been populated by liberal activists, a number of whom have donated to and worked on Democratic campaigns. Many of the section's attorneys move on to work at liberal interest groups or are hired from these organizations. MoveOn.org posters declaring "Regime change begins at home" are openly displayed in the offices of these apolitical staff attorneys.

According to conservative activists, the Bush administration quickly capitulated to the whims of the liberals in Congress and in civil rights organizations. Edward Blum, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert in voting rights law, explains that from the onset the Bush administration "bought into the entire diversity rationale" and was never committed to the ideals of "colorblind jurisprudence."

For example, even before the Voting Rights Act expired, the Bush administration committed to reauthorizing the statute that gives immense power to the federal government to oversee and approve essentially all voting changes in nine states and other jurisdictions. …