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DOJ’s Inspector General finds dysfunction in the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section

Yesterday, the Justice Department’s Inspector General released a damning report about the Voting Section of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. The Civil Rights Divison is run by Tom Perez, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Labor.

You can read the Report, which exceeds 250 pages, here. I’ll provide a few of the lowlights:

[W]e found that starting in April 2009, there were serious discussions among senior leadership in the Division and the Department about removing Christopher Coates as Chief of the Voting Section, at least in part because of a belief that Coates had a “very conservative view of civil rights law” and wanted to make “reverse-discrimination” cases such a high priority in the Voting Section that it would have a negative impact on the Section’s ability to do “traditional” cases on behalf of racial and language-minority voters. However, we found no evidence that Coates had declined to implement the decisions or policies of the new administration at the time of this effort, despite his admittedly conservative views and his acknowledged willingness to pursue “reverse-discrimination” cases.

Division leaders also believed, based in part on complaints from career employees, that Coates was a flawed manager and a divisive figure whose removal would improve the functioning and morale of the Voting Section. After career officials in JMD told Division leadership that the then-existing record would not support a performance-based removal, an effort was then undertaken by Division leadership to document Coates’s performance deficiencies. Ultimately, however, Coates requested and was granted a transfer out of the Division. We found the manner in which the Coates matter was handled further increased the appearance of politicization of the Voting Section.

The IG was “surprised and dismayed at the amount of blatantly partisan political commentary that we found in e-mails sent by some Voting Section employees on Department computers.” For example, a non-attorney employee in the Voting Section wrote in an e-mail to a Section attorney:

[P]ersonally i think that the architects of the [Voting Rights Act] and those who fought and died for it are rolling over in their graves with that perversion of the act … im sorry, but [White people] are NOT covered for a reason.

Voting Section employees also attacked non-liberal colleagues on left-wing web sites. For example:

[A]t least three career Voting Section employees posted comments on widely read liberal websites concerning Voting Section work and personnel. . .Many of the postings, which generally appeared in the Comments section following blog entries related to the Department, included a wide array of inappropriate remarks, ranging from petty and juvenile personal attacks to highly offensive and potentially threatening statements.

The comments were directed at fellow career Voting Section employees because of their conservative political views, their willingness to carry out the policies of the CRT division leadership, or their views on the Voting Rights Act. The highly offensive comments included suggestions that the parents of one former career Section attorney were Nazis, disparaging a career manager’s physical appearance and guessing how he/she would look without clothing, speculation that another career manager was watching pornography in her office, and references to “Yellow Fever,” in connection with allusions to marital infidelity involving two career Voting Section employees, one of whom was described as ‘look[ing] Asian.’”

The IG correctly refused to accept the politically-charged nature of voting rights cases as an excuse for the polarization, discord, and harassment identified in the report:

We do not believe that ideological polarization and bitter controversy within the Section are an inevitable consequence of the high political stakes in some Voting Section cases. Other Department components – including components that specialize in subject areas that are also politically controversial, such as environmental protection – do not appear to suffer from the same degree of polarization and internecine conflict.

We believe the difference is largely a function of leadership and culture, and that steps must be taken to address the professional culture of the Voting Section and the perception that political or ideological considerations have affected important administrative and enforcement decisions there.

In recent years, the leadership of the Voting Section has come, ultimately, from Tom Perez. The IG’s report shows that leadership to be seriously wanting.

That report constitutes an additional reason to reject Perez as Secretary of Labor. In upcoming posts, I will discuss yet more reasons for rejecting him.

UPDATE: IG also concluded, as I had, that the decisions reached by both the Bush and Obama administrations regarding the controversial New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case “were ultimately supportable on nonracial and non-partisan grounds.”

At PJ Media, Christian Adams has more on the IG’s report.

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