On Tuesday the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Department of Justice, released a report of its special review of the DOJ’s Voting Section. The review was prompted, in part, by complaints following the dismissal of charges against members of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) for alleged voter intimidation at a polling station in Pennsylvania. However, the OIG’s review did not focus solely on that case, where two members of the NBPP were filmed outside of the polling station, in paramilitary clothing, and where one of the members was observed brandishing a baton. The OIG also reviewed additional matters that have been the subject of various complaints spanning operations of the section during both the Obama and Bush administrations.
In general, the review dealt with a main theme, whether political or improper racial considerations drove the decision making processes within the Voting Section. The OIG looked not just into whether that was the case regarding the NBPP, but also whether those considerations influenced other investigations into allegations of Voting Rights Act (VRA) violations, including both allegations of violations that impacted minority voters and violations impacting white voters. Additionally, as a subset of its review, the OIG investigated whether ideology improperly influenced the management decisions made during both administrations and the peer-to-peer relationships within the Division.
For many on either end of the political spectrum, it may be unsatisfying to learn that after nearly 300 pages, the OIG’s report contained mainly inconclusive conclusions regarding its review. In its evaluation of the NBPP case, the OIG made no declaration that the case was dismissed against certain members of the NBPP for political reasons or because the defendants in the case were minorities. Instead, the OIG collected persuasive evidence that DOJ leadership made a “well-reasoned” determination in its actions. Also, in its review of other actions by the section during both presidential administrations, the OIG determined that there was no evidence that the section’s choices in investigating or litigating claims of VRA violations were politically motivated or relied upon improper racial considerations.
Furthermore, though for those on the left it may be satisfying to know that the OIG discussed the fact that management hiring decisions within the section during the Bush administration were ideologically motivated to the benefit of those who held conservative viewpoints, the discussion was a reiteration of earlier findings that the decisions appeared to derive from one manager within the section. Similarly, while some on the right may feel vindicated that the OIG gave weight to the idea that a section chief with conservative ideology was targeted for removal by incoming Obama appointees, the OIG stopped short of declaring this attempted removal to be based on ideological grounds.
At this point you may be wondering why I used the word “Loathsomeness” in the title to this post. If you are, you may be experiencing the same feeling I had throughout much of the first half of the report. I was so sure that in its review of the NBPP case the OIG would find that improper considerations influenced the dismissal of that case. Throughout the bloggerty-blog world at the time the DOJ dismissed the case, it was a foregone conclusion that the NBPP had directed Jerry Jackson and KS Shabazz to don uniforms and parade around in front of the Pennsylvania polling station and that amounted to voter intimidation. It seemed as clear as the nightstick in Shabazz’s hand. Therefore, when the cases against Jackson and the defendants who were part of the NBPP leadership were dropped and only Shabazz faced an injunction for his acts, it seemed there could be no proper justification and only some undue influence could have caused such a result. However, after reading the OIG report, I see I was wrong.
I was wrong that it could only be due to improper influence. I was not wrong, however, in my thinking at the time that ideology may have had some hand in the matter. After reading the entire report, I personally can only conclude that ideology may impact all the actions of the DOJ’s Voting Section.
It was at the midway point of the OIG’s report that I began to see what I had not considered. Decisions like NBPP did not have to be due to an explicit demonstration of political influence. Rather, expressed ideology among members of the section could have a continuous impact on the work conducted by the section. Beginning in Chapter 4 of the report, the OIG started to detail disgusting behaviors by staff and a disturbing atmosphere that existed within the Voting Section before and even after the NBPP case. Loathsome is the only way I can describe it.
In that chapter, the report portrayed a working environment where liberal staff members ostracized a new, conservative, attorney who was part of a working group evaluating provisions of a Georgia Voter ID law for violations of Section 5 of the VRA (the section of the VRA applicable only to select jurisdictions). Liberal members of the section described the conservative attorney as a “hand-picked Vichyite,” referencing what appeared to be a running complaint by liberal staff that the section, under conservative leadership during the Bush administration, resembled Nazi occupied France.
The report went on to describe how members of the section who worked a reverse discrimination claim against the black chairman of the Noxubee County Democratic Election Committee were not only ostracized but were subject to overt harassment. In particular, a black intern who volunteered to work the case was subject to outrageous verbal abuse, including statements to the effect that the black intern was being used as a “token.” It revealed that liberal staff members’ expressed disdain for the conservative section chief for the fact that he was pursuing the same case against a black defendant who had engaged in intimidation against white voters. One liberal staff member even referred to the section chief as a “klansman” in an email to other lawyers within the section.
The OIG also found that liberal staff posted insults against conservative staff members on the Internet. Examples included references to the parents of a conservative member as Nazis and to the ideal neighborhood for one conservative staff member as a place where “everyone wears a white sheet, the darkies say ‘yes’m,’ and equal rights for all are the real ‘land of make believe.” Some of these same staff members unapologetically shared internal information on liberal websites along with insults and even perceived threats against conservative staff. To be fair, the OIG did describe one instance where conservative staff members appeared to engage in inappropriate statements about a female employee who was perceived to be a liberal. However, that instance did not include the same level of ideologically based elements as appeared in an overwhelming number of circumstances where liberals attacked conservatives.
It is shocking to read about any organization whose culture would inspire this type of behavior. To read that this was the atmosphere within our own DOJ is abhorrent. My own senses were most shocked by the above examples. However, there are many other references within the OIG’s report that suggest that the ideological divisions within the section are stark and that those who were the most vocal about their differences with other staff members were those who are liberal. A final example comes from one staff attorney who served as a member of a hiring committee during the current administration and who wrote in an email, “[S]omehow whenever a republican says he or she is doing something because of a concern about a disadvantaged group, my antennae go up. [I] can’t help it.”
Though the OIG may have come away from this review with few conclusions about the impact of ideology within the DOJ’s Voting Section, I believe any objective reader of the report can conclude for themselves that where members of the staff feel free to vocalize their contempt for others within the section, without fear of reprisal, ideology will impact decisions within the section. And, with this I am not excusing any similar actions by conservatives against liberals. The DOJ represents the chief agency for the enforcement of our country’s laws. Those laws must be fairly applied for our nation to remain a nation of laws and not of men. While I do not begrudge any person their ideological leanings, there is no room, whatsoever, for any person within the DOJ to express those leanings in a way that it may negatively impact the work environment of the unit. There is no place for ideology to drive interactions within an agency charged with the ultimate defense of our Constitution and its principles that all men be treated equally, without regard to creed or political affiliation. To do otherwise is loathsome, I can think of no better word.