The transition from Clinton to Bush was particularly challenging for the US Department of Justice. Along with the new administration came a new series of priorities, and an unhealthily low DoJ turnover rate.

This morning, The New York Times indicted the Bush administration for fundamentally shifting the DoJ’s “civil rights mission” away from race (circa Clinton) and towards religion (circa Scopes/monkeys/the like). For years, conservatives have argued that communities – not federal institutions – best handle race litigation, but it was not until Bush II that they had an opportunity to act on this misconception. Under Bush, civil rights specialists have been pushed out the door in favor of counsel that “specializes” in religion. These recruits have been termed “holy hires” by Democratic lawyers and DoJ veterans alike. The Times cites the following as consequences of “mission” changes such as this one:

[Increased intervention] in federal court cases on behalf of religion-based groups like the Salvation Army that assert they have the right to discriminate in hiring in favor of people who share their beliefs even though they are running charitable programs with federal money.

Supporting groups that want to send home religious literature with schoolchildren; in one case, the government helped win the right of a group in Massachusetts to distribute candy canes as part of a religious message that the red stripes represented the blood of Christ.

Vigorously enforcing a law enacted by Congress in 2000 that allows churches and other places of worship to be free of some local zoning restrictions. The division has brought more than two dozen lawsuits on behalf of churches, synagogues and mosques.

Taking on far fewer hate crimes and cases in which local law enforcement officers may have violated someone’s civil rights.

Sharply reducing the complex lawsuits that challenge voting plans that might dilute the strength of black voters. The department initiated only one such case through the early part of this year, compared with eight in a comparable period in the Clinton administration.

Unsurprisingly, one factor that is very seldom discussed in Election 2008 coverage is how the candidates would treat the DOJ if elected, both ideologically and logistically. Perhaps it’s time for Wolf Blitzer and the cats at CNN to ask a question about human trafficking, mandatory minimums, restricted access to civil courts, wire-tapping, or racial discrimination. Each deserves be discussed alongside Iraq and immigration, even though they are not “hot” issues (see Obama Girl).

Curiously, the ultimate legacy of Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales may not be enemy combatants or even Gitmo, but, rather, the unchecked growth of institutionalized racism in this country. However, the Bush precedent has hopefully taught all of the candidates two lessons: first, that a multi-dimensional DoJ cannot be taken for granted, and, second, that effective policymaking largely hinges on the competency of the choice for Attorney General.


1 Response to “Does George W. Bush Hate Black People?: Analyzing the Department of Justice Transition from Clinton to Bush”

  1. 1 Lessons from Bush’s Justice Department Transition: Why Eric Holder Is the Right Choice to Reprioritize Civil Rights at the DOJ | DailyWrit

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