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Context of 'August 2004: Civil Rights Officials Engage in Racist Banter'

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Bradley Schlozman, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division (CRD), receives an email from his supervisor, John Tanner, asking him to bring coffee for both of them to a meeting they are both scheduled to attend. Schlozman asks how Tanner likes his coffee and Tanner replies that he likes it “Mary Frances Berry style—black and bitter.” Berry, an African-American, chaired the US Commission on Civil Rights from 1993 to 2004. Schlozman forwards the email exchange to several CRD officials with the comment, “Y’all will appreciate Tanner’s response.” Shortly thereafter, he is forced to write a written apology for his action. [Washington Post, 1/13/2009]

Entity Tags: John Tanner, Bradley J. Schlozman, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), US Department of Justice, Mary Frances Berry

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

The Washington Post learns that the Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965) cases, a drastic change from the earlier policy, which was designed to insulate such decision from political considerations. The decision comes amid what the Post calls “growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas (see December 12, 2003, December 2, 2005, and December 5, 2005) and Georgia (see 2005, November 25, 2005, and September 19, 2006) that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.” In the Georgia redistricting case, a staff memo advised rejecting the Georgia plan because it required voters to show photo ID at the polls, a policy that the memo said would disenfranchise some African-American voters. Under the new policy, that recommendation was removed from the memo and was not forwarded to higher officials in the civil rights division (CRD). The DOJ has claimed the August 25 memo was “an early draft,” even though the DOJ gave “preclearance” for the Georgia plan to be adopted on August 26. A federal judge blocked the law’s implementation, calling it a return to Jim Crow-era policies. The policy was adopted by John Tanner, the head of the CRD’s voting rights section (VRS). DOJ spokesperson Eric Holland says, “The opinions and expertise of the career lawyers are valued and respected and continue to be an integral part of the internal deliberation process upon which the department heavily relies when making litigation decisions.” Tanner has recently lambasted the quality of work by the VRS staff, some of whom have been in the section for decades. Some of the staff members boycotted the staff Christmas party because they were too angry to attend, sources within the section say. Experts like Jon Greenbaum, a VRS veteran who now directs the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says that stopping staff members from making such recommendations is a significant departure and runs the risk of making the process appear more political. “It’s an attempt by the political hierarchy to insulate themselves from any accountability by essentially leaving it up to a chief, who’s there at their whim,” he says. “To me, it shows a fear of dealing with the legal issues in these cases.” Congressional Democrats are critical of the new policy and are joined by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), who is considering holding hearings on the Texas redistricting case. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says, “America deserves better than a civil rights division that puts the political agenda of those in power over the interests of the people its serves.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other DOJ officials have disagreed with the criticism, and asserted that politics play no role in civil rights decisions. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella has recently written to Specter, criticizing the Post’s coverage and claiming that the department is aggressively enforcing a range of civil rights laws. “From fair housing opportunities, equal access to the ballot box, and criminal civil rights prosecutions to desegregation in America’s schools and protection of the rights of the disabled, the division continues its noble mission with vigor,” he wrote. [Washington Post, 12/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Alberto R. Gonzales, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Washington Post, William E. Moschella, Jon Greenbaum, Eric W. Holland, US Department of Justice, Arlen Specter, John Tanner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Bradley Schlozman.Bradley Schlozman. [Source: US Department of Justice]Congress’s new Democratic leadership decides to investigate the Bush administration’s politicization of the Justice Department’s civil rights division (CRD—see Fall 2002 and After). The investigation is part of a parallel investigation into the firing of nine US attorneys for allegedly political reasons. One of the first replacement US attorneys, Bradley Schlozman, had spent three years as one of the CRD’s political hires most responsible for hiring conservative ideologues to replace CRD career lawyers. The complaints also dovetail with a report that another key figure in the US attorney firing, the Justice Department’s White House liaison Monica Goodling, was being investigated for using partisan political affiliations as part of her decisions to hire career assistant prosecutors, a practice forbidden by federal law. Goodling will later admit to having “crossed the line” by using political litmus tests in her career hiring decisions. Scholzman will admit to having bragged about hiring only Republicans at the Justice Department, but will deny asking any job applicants about their political views or partisan affiliations. [Savage, 2007, pp. 299]

Entity Tags: Bradley J. Schlozman, Monica M. Goodling, US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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