Ted Kennedy talking points as front-page fodder

So desperate is The Washington Post to maintain the anti-Bush drumbeat that today, under its front page headline, it ran a dog-bites-man story about how liberal government career lawyers in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and their champion Ted Kennedy, are unhappy with the non-liberal Bush administration lawyers who (as the result of the last two elections) have run the division for the past five years. Even by the standards of this hardy perennial genre, the story by Dan Eggen is lame. The sub-title (“Veterans exit division as traditional cases decline”) suggests that exits are occurring at significantly higher than the normal attrition rate. If one reads deep enough into the article, however, one learns that the attrition rate during the five years of the Bush administration (13 percent) is essentially the same as it was during the last five years of the Clinton administration (11 percent). I would have expected a much larger disparity based solely on the high rate at which baby-boom lawyers are retiring these days.

But that’s not to deny that the liberal career lawyers in the Civil Rights Division have grievances. One is that they are required increasingly to work on immigration cases. But, while it certainly must be more fun to bring non-stop “discrimination” suits as though it were still the 1970s, illegal discrimination has become a bit less of a problem since that time. So it’s hard to blame the Bush administration for expecting government lawyers to lend a hand in deportation cases, for example.

Another grievance arises from the fact that Justice Department has approved a Georgia program that requires voters to present government-issued identification cards at the polls. The Post suggests that this program resembles a poll tax. But, of course, it’s nothing of the kind. Jim Crow era southern blacks were less able to pay a poll tax (or pass a literacy test) than their white counterparts. Does the Post, or the career Justice Department lawyers or Ted Kennedy, believe that blacks are less able than whites to bring a card to the polls and pull it out on request?

Deep into the story, the Post finally gets to the real issue, which, as it tends to be in modern discussions of civil rights, is quotas. Career Justice Department civil rights lawyers like them, Bush administration officials like them less (but more than they should). The Post cites a letter by the liberal Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law complaining that the government isn’t bringing enough cases dealing with “discrimination based on the statistical impact on women or minority groups.” These are cases in which the government complains about the lack of statistical balance in a work place, to cite the most common context. They generally conflate lack of such numerical balance with discrimination, placing the burden on employers to defend the absence of quota-type numbers or else reach a settlement that may well impose a quota-type remedy. If the Civil Rights Division is bringing fewer of these suits, that’s a good thing. As the Bush’s administration’s former civil rights chief says, “It’s not a prosecutor’s job to bring lots of cases, it’s a prosecutor’s job to bring the right cases.” Which the Bush administration seems to be doing. In the next to last paragraph of its piece, the Post quotes a Justice Department spokesman who notes that “the department is on the winning side of court rulings 90 percent of the time compared to 60 percent during the Clinton years.”

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