Von Spakovsky's Baseless Allegation Of DOJ Politicization

Pajamas Media has been scandal-mongering for months with hollow allegations of politicization in the hiring process at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Today, Hans von Spakovsky published the first piece “in a series of articles by Pajamas Media about the Civil Rights Division's hiring practices since President Obama took office.” He claims the supposed tainting of the hiring process by the DOJ's Civil Rights Division under Obama is “nearly unprecedented in scope and significantly eclipses anything the Bush administration was even accused of doing.”

Spakovsky and PJM are responding defensively to allegations that under President Bush, political appointees at DOJ's Civil Rights Division illegally considered applicants' political leanings when making hiring decisions. These claims have been backed up in a report completed by the DOJ's Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, who declared the hiring activity a “viola[tion] of federal law.”

For months, PJM has been waging a campaign alleging the Obama administration is committing the same sins. The crusade continues today, with Spakovsky's piece outing the so-called “new radicals” in the Civil Rights Division's Voting Section. Instead of bolstering his argument, however, he's instead just highlighted the many exemplary qualifications and relevant civil rights law experiences the new employees have brought to the table. Indeed, von Spakovsky's complaint often appears to be that the Civil Rights Division has hired attorneys with backgrounds in civil rights.

Specifically, Spakovsky has published the employment histories of the 16 new hires in the Voting Rights department of the Civil Rights division. He rails at length about the alleged liberal affiliations of the DOJ hires, detailing their past civil rights work with groups like the ACLU and NAACP, but his complaining notably lacks any accusation or evidence that DOJ was hiring unqualified lawyers or excluding applicants based on their political predilections - something the Bush administration was found to have done.

The question, after all, is not whether DOJ hired too many conservatives in the Bush administration or too many liberals in the Obama administration; the question is whether either of those administrations improperly used an individual's political leanings as a pro or con in their hiring deliberations. Spakovsky offers no evidence that the DOJ is doing this other than the circumstantial claim that it's more likely than not that politicization took place because so many liberals have been hired.

Conversely, according to testimony in the DOJ Office of the Inspector General report, hires under the Bush administration were often made in favor of right-wingers at the expense of more qualified candidates. From the report, highlighting the hiring experiences of Special Litigation Section Chief Shanetta Cutlar:

Cutlar said she vehemently objected to some of the candidates interviewed for the Special Litigation Section because she did not believe they were qualified, but said she was routinely overruled by Schlozman. For example, Cutlar said she objected to hiring a candidate who was the girlfriend of an attorney hired in the Division's Educational Opportunities Section because the applicant was unqualified. The applicant, who was working as a contract paralegal at a law firm, was a member of both the Federalist Society and the Republican National Lawyers Association. Cutlar said she also noted a discrepancy in dates on the applicant's résumé - specifically that during the period the applicant claimed to have been self-employed practicing law, she was not admitted to any state bar. When Cutlar sought an explanation from the applicant during the interview, Schlozman told her to “let it go.” Cutlar argued with Schlozman after the interview that the candidate had not been truthful and should not be hired. By the time she returned to her office, however, Cutlar had received an e-mail from Schlozman informing her that he was hiring the applicant.

In another example, Cutlar said she objected to two candidates on the grounds that they were too inexperienced to work in her section. However, Schlozman said the two could serve as “junior attorneys” in the section, a position Cutlar said did not exist. One candidate was the niece of a former agency head in the Bush administration, while the other was a personal friend of a Counsel to Paul McNulty when he served as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Counsel described the applicant as a “solid conservative” in his referral e-mail to Principal DAAG Wiggins.

The applicant in Cutlar's first example resigned her position within her first year “when faced with possible termination for poor performance.” Other Section Chiefs described similar instances in which their concerns about an applicant's qualifications were overruled in lieu of the applicant's political leanings.

What other information PJM received from DOJ remains to seen, but Spakovsky's first step in this series seems a bit feeble given the hype Pajamas Media has given to the subject. There's no direct evidence that conservatives were rejected from these positions because of their beliefs or that deserving conservatives weren't considered while unqualified liberals were. Without an answer to fill in this blank, PJM's accusations are just slinging circumstantial mud pies.