Conservatives have long criticized the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department, particularly its Voting Rights section, for being an overly politicized body obsessed with race. According to a new report released yesterday from the Justice Department's inspector general, at least half of that description is right.
While the report found no evidence that either the Bush administration or the Obama administration deliberately ignored particular voting rights cases for the sake of political expediency, it did uncover a rash of deep ideological polarization and (in some cases) vivid racial animosity within the Voting Rights section. And we do mean vivid. National Public Radio reports:
The report said one team member described a colleague as a "hand-picked Vichyite," comparing the voting section to Vichy-controlled France during the Nazi occupation, and another team member accessed the colleague's document directory and shared a memo without permission.
The following year, when the Bush Justice Department brought a controversial "reverse discrimination" case against black defendants who allegedly abridged white voters' rights, some career staff members harassed an African American intern who volunteered to travel to Mississippi to work on the trial as a "token." The intern told investigators the treatment angered and insulted him.
It only gets worse from there. The Washington Post adds:
Several e-mails and Internet postings described in the report illustrated the contentious atmosphere in the voting section. In one, an employee characterized the neighborhood of a conservative career lawyer as a place where “everyone wears a white sheet, the darkies say ‘yes’m’ and equal rights for all are the real ‘land of make believe.’ ” Another post by a career employee said that “a good, ethical Republican” is a “seeming oxymoron.” One posting used the expression “po’ Niggrahs” to describe a manager’s attitude toward African Americans.
Quite aside from the content of this report being disturbing in itself, the report is expected to present a problem for the confirmation of Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, who is presently thought to be President Obama's most likely choice to helm the Department of Labor.
Perez claims the really offensive materials originate from a time before he was placed at the helm of this particular division, and that since then he has improved professionalism and morale. While this may very well be true, the report should be expected to come up at Perez's confirmation hearings. And it will be easy for his opponents to make the case that this report is not an isolated incident, judging by the reaction of the conservative blogosphere to Perez's likely nomination. To quote Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, "Thomas Perez, the person reportedly about to be named the president’s nominee for labor secretary, makes Chuck Hagel seem like George C. Marshall."
Then again, the President probably hopes that Perez will do a better job of answering for his controversies than Hagel.