Justice Department disserved public; Washington Post disserved readers

The front page headline in Monday’s Washington Post blared “Immigration Judges Often Picked Based On GOP Ties.” The story, by Amy Goldstein and Dan Eggen, carried over to page A-4. There the Post announced, “GOP Loyalists Get Immigration Judgeships.”
These headlines are misleading, if not false. It does appear that Justice Department picked some immigration judges based on political affiliation. However, after a review of the matter Justice stopped doing this (as it told the Post, which offers no evidence to the contrary). Thus, it is not the case that GOP loyalists get immigration judgeships, and these judges are not often picked based on GOP ties. The headlines should have made better use of the past tense.
It’s troubling, though, that the Justice Department until fairly recently engaged in this practice. The civil service law prohibits selection based on political affiliation. Although immigration judges are specially appointed by the Attorney General, they do not fall outside of the rule prohibiting political affiliation from factoring in. The individuals who made the decisions may not have understood this, but the resulting violation of the civil service law is still a serious matter. In addition to the concern inherent whenever the law is violated, the Justice Department did not serve the national interest well when it selected cronies of Republican politicians with no background in immigration law over experienced immigration practitioners.
But that doesn’t excuse the sloppiness of the Post’s report, which extends beyond its headlines. The Post pays too little attention to explaining the civil service law. Thus, when it airs various liberal grievances, the reader is left to guess whether they amount to violations of the law or just of left-wing sensibiliies.
For example, the Post notes that those immigration judges appointed by the Attorney General who had immigration experience invariably were prosecutors or held other enforcement jobs — they did not include lawyers who had represented immigrants. However, though the law requires that political affiliation not be considered, to my knowledge it does not preclude the Attorney General from considering how candidates are likely to view immigration law. Similarly, the law does not require that hispanics make up a large percentage of the judges to reflect the fact that, as the Post puts it, “Spanish-speaking people from Latin America make up at least 70 percent of the caseload.” Individuals who appear before an immigration judge are not clients entitled to service or ethnic-based sympathy.
The Post boasts that it has performed “the first systematic examination of the people appointed to immigration courts, the relationships that led to their selection and the experience they brought to their position.” Perhaps. But I prefer this story on the same subject that in The Legal Times from two weeks earlier.

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