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Attorney General

DOJ to Hire 50 More Lawyers, Gear Up for Civil Rights Enforcement Drive

Posted Sep 1, 2009 5:04 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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The U.S. Department of Justice is gearing up for a renewed emphasis on traditional civil rights enforcement after a shift in focus during the administration of former President George W. Bush to a greater emphasis on religious rights, human trafficking and individual cases in which there was evidence of intentional discrimination.

Under Attorney General Eric Holder, the DOJ is planning to bring more disparate-impact cases based on statistical evidence that minorities are treated less favorably in arenas ranging from housing to hiring, reports the New York Times.

And, in addition to changing the direction of the Civil Rights Division, there are plans to hire another 50 civil rights lawyers to bolster a group that has suffered from morale and turnover problems under the Bush administration, the newspaper recounts. According to a confidential report by the Obama administration's transition team, 236 lawyers in the 350-attorney division left between 2003 and 2007, amidst publicized concerns that hiring and cases had been improperly politicized, with applicants' political views taking priority over their qualifications to do the job.

"While some of the political hires have performed competently and a number of others have left, the net effect of the politicized hiring process and the brain drain is an attorney workforce largely ill-equipped to handle the complex, big-impact litigation that should comprise a significant part” of the Civil Rights Division docket, states the transition report, a copy of which was obtained by the Times.

Now, however, the division's new direction is drawing fire from some who contend that the planned changes detailed in the lengthy Times article are also political, the newspaper reports.

Conservative Robert Driscoll, who worked as a political appointee from 2001 to 2003, says the "overwhelmingly left-leaning" career civil rights lawyers in the division can be counted upon to bring in others like themselves.

“If you are the Obama administration and you allow the career staff to do all the hiring, you will get the same people you would probably get if you did it yourself,” he tells the Times. “In some ways, it’s a masterstroke by them.”

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