Leave our satrapy alone

I’ve commented before about that hardy perennial of anti-Republican administration reporting — the story claiming that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is being wrecked by conservative political appointees. Typically, this story cites a decline in the number of government civil rights suits brought — ignoring the possibility that the decline is the result of an unwillingness to bring meritless cases or cases advancing controversial theories (e.g., theories conflating statistical evidence of racial imbalance with discrimination) with which the elected administration disagrees. Nowadays, the story may also cite an increase in the rate at which career employees are retiring — ignoring both the fact that baby boomers have hit the retirement age, and the possibility that discontent by entrenched liberal bureaucrats working during a conservative administration in a department that operates on an ideological fault line may be neither earth-shattering news nor a bad thing.

The latest entry in this genre — from the Boston Globe — takes a somewhat different approach, focusing less on retirement than on hiring. The burden of the article is that the political appointees at the Civil Rights Division have taken away from the career staff the power to make hiring decisions. As a result, fewer liberals and more conservatives are being hired. In addition, new hires are less likely to have had prior civil rights litigation experience, especially on the plaintiff’s side. And new hires are less likely to come from elite eastern law schools.

But the Globe’s description of the Civil Rights Division’s hiring practices during the “good old days” provides the defense, if any were needed, for the decision by the political appointees to exercise control over hiring. For example, as the Globe puts it, “attorneys hired by the career hiring committees largely came from Eastern law schools with elite reputations.” This contempt for the “provinces” strikes me as a bad thing even if one does not read the quoted passage (as I do) as evidence that the Civil Rights Division was favoring liberal applicants.

The Globe tries to defend the Division’s bias in favor of applicants from liberal law schools by noting that “the average US News & World Report ranking for the law school attended by successful applicants in 2001 and 2002 was 34, while the average law school rank dropped to 44 for those hired after 2003.” But even assuming that (a) the law school rankings don’t reflect a liberal and/or east coast bias and (b) the difference between the quality of 34th and 44th ranked law schools is meaningful, the Globe’s stats don’t show that the credentials of new hires have declined because the stats don’t take into account the class rank of the hires.

What about the fact that the new hires are less likely to have civil rights experience? First, the article does not take into account the possibility that (just as liberal career employees are supposedly leaving the division for ideological reasons) young lawyers who litigate on behalf of civil rights plaintiffs might not wish to cast their lot with this administration for ideological reasons. Second, as the article notes, the Justice Department says that many of the division’s new lawyers are former clerks for federal judges and, as such, have had exposure to the kinds of cases and issues the Division handles. In any case, government agencies typically bring in many young lawyers who lack experience in the relevant area of substantive law or, indeed, in any substantive area of law. That practice has never been considered evidence that an agency is not getting the talent it needs.

But the grievance here is not about talent, it’s about ideology (the Globe notes that some of the new hires are members of the Federalist Society and a few, heaven help us, belong to Christian organizations). And it’s about the distress that liberal bureaucrats (and their friends in the MSM) experience in those rare instances when the will of the people encroaches on their power.

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