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Civil Rights: 50 Years Of History, Six Years Of Corruption

Civil Rights: 50 Years Of History, Six Years Of Corruption

The Civil Rights Division under President Bush has seen the erosion of rights and been corrupted with politicization.

SEPTEMBER 7, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, and Ali Frick
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50 Years Of History, Six Years Of Corruption

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice. On Sept. 7, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which created the division, after President Harry Truman’s recommendation a decade earlier to create a civil rights legal enforcement arm of the Justice Department. Subsequently, a “cadre of attorneys” in the Civil Rights Division “helped spur profound social change” in the coming decades through the promotion of equal justice. Today, the problems of race and poverty “still require the highest caliber of attention,” seen, for example, in the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. But under President Bush, the section has seen the erosion of rights and been corrupted with politicization. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to observe the anniversary and “hear concerns from civil rights leaders that the division has become partisan.” Learn more about the 50th anniversary HERE.

MINORITIES HURT BY POLITICIZATION: In contrast to its once revered stature, the Civil Rights Division has been plagued by corruption, controversy, and politicization under Bush. Brad Schlozman, a political appointee, emerged as a central figure in the U.S. attorneys scandal for helping force out a U.S attorney who refused to endorse a bogus voter fraud lawsuit targeting minorities. Disregarding Justice Department policy, Schlozman filed voter fraud indictments against a liberal activist group just one week before hotly contested 2006 election. In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he admitted to “boasting” about the number of Republicans he hired and disparaged minority activist groups. Similarly, Hans von Spakovsky, another Civil Rights Division political appointee, was said to have consistently targeted African-Americans throughout his tenure at the Justice Department. He pushed through a Texas re-districting plan that violated the Voting Rights Act, urged Maryland officials to reject voter registration forms of lawful voters, and approved a Jim Crow-era poll tax on African-Americans in Georgia, which was later overturned.

Under Bush, the Civil Rights Division has recast the federal government’s role in civil rights by aggressively pursuing right-wing social causes while diminishing its involvement in race issues, seen through its lackluster efforts to combat minority voter suppression. Such changes “began under Attorney General John Ashcroft, but have accelerated under Alberto R. Gonzales.” Veteran civil rights attorneys complain that the Department now more aggressively pursues “reverse discrimination” — cases where the complainant is white — and has diminished its efforts to protect African-Americans from state and local discrimination. The recently-resigned Civil Rights Division chief Wan Kim heavily pursued these “causes favored by conservatives,” for example. Along with its altered mission, the Department “transferred or demoted” experienced civil rights litigators.

A WAY FORWARD: During the civil rights era, the Justice Department was a crucial enforcer of civil rights legislation and helped advance a revolutionary movement. But in the wake of a series of scandals this year, the public’s faith in the Justice Department has plummeted. Outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales leaves his office with a 28 percent approval rating. “The public has lost confidence in our government, and in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who was instrumental in ending government-sanctioned segregation in the 1960s. “We can and we must do better.” To restore the Justice Department and its Civil Rights Division, Congress should urge Bush to select a successor to Gonzales characterized by independence and accountability. Key vacancies in the Civil Rights Division should be filled with arbiters of justice, not political stalwarts. Congress should also establish a Select Committee for civil rights in the House and Senate, which would review the implementation of federal law, conduct strong oversight, and improve civil rights enforcement.


IRAQ — REPORT: MASSIVE U.S. ‘FOOTPRINT’ IN IRAQ CONVEYS ‘PERMANENCE,’ ‘OPPOSITE IMPRESSION IS NEEDED’: A report released Wednesday by a 20-member commission, headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, reported that it will be at least 12 to 18 months before Iraq’s army and police can take charge. Though “allies of the White House are likely to point to the report as evidence” that the U.S. presence in Iraq should continue, a closer inspection of the report reveals that the Jones commission is hardly in favor of maintaining the escalation in Iraq. On page 128, the report explicitly warns that the “massive” U.S. military occupation of Iraq is conveying the impression of “permanence.” The report goes on to recommend “significant reductions” in the “size of our national footprint in Iraq.” The recommendations of Gen. Jones echo the comments made by White House “war czar” Gen. Doug Lute prior to his appointment, when he said: “You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It’s very difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus, largely western, foreign troops occupying the country.” Disregarding the advice and concerns of these generals, Bush has said he plans to largely maintain troop levels, and the White House has aggressively pursued the construction of an “embassy-fortress.”

JUSTICE — FEDERAL JUDGE STRIKES DOWN PATRIOT ACT PROVISIONS: A federal judge struck down a piece of the controversial Patriot Act on Thursday, ruling that the government must obtain a court’s approval before it can order Internet providers to turn over records without informing customers. Rebuking White House policy, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero declared that when “the judiciary lowers its guard on the Constitution, it opens the door to far-reaching invasions of liberty.” The law not only allowed the FBI to issue so-called national security letters (NSLs) to communications providers demanding the release of information without a court order, but it also forbade the companies from warning their customers. A report released last March by the Justice Department Inspector General showed that the FBI had issued over 143,000 NSLs between 2003 and 2005. These warrantless, secretive searches, Marrero declared, amount to little more than “the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values.” The ACLU, which brought the suit, had another success this week, when a federal judge rejected the administration’s secrecy claims in its refusal to make public information about its secret warantless wiretapping program.

IRAQ — O’HANLON RIPS GAO REPORT, CALLS IT ‘FLAT-OUT SLOPPY’: Last week, Gen. David Petraeus alleged a 75 percent reduction in “sectarian violence” in Iraq and is expected to say the same before Congress. In contrast, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office recently reported that daily attacks in Iraq have “remained unchanged” throughout the escalation. The Washington Post reports today that national security analysts are questioning the military’s statistics. National Intelligence Estimate authors, Iraq Study Group members, intelligence officials, and academics now “accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators.” Brookings Institution analyst Michael O’Hanlon, however, attacked the GAO and lauded the Pentagon’s distortions. In an analysis only he could offer, O’Hanlon rips the GAO report for being both “overly rigorous” and “flat-out sloppy.” Ironically, while O’Hanlon bashes the GAO when he doesn’t like what it says, his very own Iraq Index borrows heavily from GAO research to report on the situation on the ground. A senior military intelligence official attributed the Pentagon’s citation of the drastic reduction in violence “to a desire to provide Petraeus with ammunition for his congressional testimony.”


Though Gen. David Petraeus has told President Bush “that he wants to maintain heightened troop levels in Iraq well into next year,” a senior U.S. official says the general is willing to consider a slight drawdown of “between 3,500 and 4,500 U.S. troops from Iraq early next year.”

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) lashed out at Senate Republican leaders yesterday over their efforts to force Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) to resign. “I hope I never stub my toe and they throw me under the bus,” said Simpson. “It kind of makes you wonder what party you want to be a member of,” he added, noting he has no intention of switching parties.

“American intelligence agencies are expecting Osama bin Laden to issue a triumphant message to Al Qaeda followers on the sixth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks boasting of Al Qaeda’s growing numbers and success in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.” The al Qaeda leader has not appeared in new video footage since October 2004.

Seven U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, including four in the western province of Anbar, the U.S. military said on Friday.” The deaths increase to more than 3,750 the number of U.S. soldiers killed since the start of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Yesterday, the head of the Justice Department’s civil division announced that he will be leaving in two weeks. His departure “will leave only two of the department’s six key litigation divisions headed by Senate-confirmed officials.” Once Alberto Gonzales steps down, all three of the Justice Department’s top positions will also be filled by “acting” officials. 

“The Arctic ice cap is melting faster than scientists had expected and will shrink 40 percent by 2050 in most regions, with grim consequences for polar bears, walruses and other marine animals,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“More than 260 doctors from around the world have launched an unprecedented attack on the American medical establishment for its failure to condemn unethical practices by medical practitioners at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.”

And finally: “Even for someone as gaffe-prone as U.S. President George W. Bush, he was in rare form on Friday.” He thanked Australia for hosting the OPEC — instead of APEC — summit, even though Australia has never been a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. He also brought up the “Austrian troops in Iraq,” even though there are Australian, but not Austrian, troops serving there.

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Yesterday, the Senate “brushed past Bush administration protests and passed legislation containing big budget increases for medical care for veterans.” The Veterans Affairs budget bill, passed by a 92-1 vote, would give the department a 10 percent increase for its health care accounts next year.


MINNESOTA: “The past several years have seen LGBT Pride events expand beyond the urban core of Minneapolis-St. Paul.”

GEORGIA: Federal judge upholds photo ID law.

CALIFORNIA: “[T]he average Golden State resident consumes a third less electricity than the average American.”


THINK PROGRESS: Right wing pushing Gen. David Petraeus for president.

ANGRY BEAR: 2007 monthly U.S. fatalities in Iraq surpass 2006 levels.

ON DEADLINE: On Wednesday, the White House sent out Rosh Hashanah greetings, but the holiday is next week.

MEDIA MATTERS: Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly calls Media Matters and “the most vicious element in our society today.”


“Rather than mandate arbitrary timetables for troop withdrawals or micromanage our military commanders, this legislation enables our servicemen and women to follow the judgment of commanders on the ground.”
— President Bush, 5/26/07, on valuing the judgment of his military commanders


“My reaction…was, ‘No military guy is gonna tell a civilian how to react.'”
— Bush, 2006, rejecting retired generals’ calls for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation as Defense Secretary

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