Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said today he wants the U.S. Department of Justice inspector general to look into the hiring practices at DOJ's Civil Rights Division.
Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at a hearing that he believes the Civil Rights Division has been hiring only lawyers from liberal backgrounds, at the expense of conservatives. As The National Law Journal reported in May, hires made during the Obama administration have tended to come from traditional civil rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union or the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The recent hires do not reflect decisions based entirely on merit, Grassley said. “It would be more accurate to state that, to the division, civil rights experience is limited to experience with limited advocacy groups,” he said. He added, “I’ve asked the inspector general to investigate that.”
In essence, Grassley is accusing the Civil Rights Division of reversing some of the hiring practices it used during the George W. Bush administration, according to an earlier joint investigation by the DOJ inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility. That investigation, completed in July 2008 (PDF), found that political appointees had improperly used political considerations in hiring people for career jobs and assigning work. Members of the conservative Federalist Society, for example, received extra consideration.
A spokesman for the department’s Office of the Inspector General, Jay Lerner, said the office has received Grassley’s request and is in the process of reviewing it.
The Civil Rights Division’s leadership has defended the process it uses for hiring — including a change that increased the involvement of career lawyers in interviews of applicants — while decrying the practices during the Bush era.
Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, told senators in written testimony today that the division has a “steadfast commitment to the fair, vigorous and evenhanded enforcement of all of the laws within our jurisdiction.” He called the division’s career staff “indispensible in our transformation and restoration [during] the last two years.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who presided over the hearing about the division, said he believes the division “has moved toward hiring procedures based strictly on merit.”