Center for American Progress

Deterioration of Civil Rights Under Bush: Editors of the “Erosion of Rights” Report Testify

Deterioration of Civil Rights Under Bush: Editors of the “Erosion of Rights” Report Testify

William Taylor and Joe Rich, the editors of CAP's "Erosion of Rights" report, give their testimonies before Congress.

The Center for American Progress and the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights teamed up this month to release a report on the decline of civil rights in the United States under the Bush administration. The report, “The Erosion of Rights: Declining Civil Rights Enforcement Under the Bush Administration,” found that civil rights protections have been undermined over the past six years by calculated federal judicial appointments and neglect of the historical tools designed to carry out civil rights enforcement.

Report editors William L. Taylor, Chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, and Joe Rich, former Chief of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, testified before the House Judiciary Committee last week in an oversight hearing on the implementation of civil rights laws under the Bush administration.

“As the Division approaches its 50th anniversary, it is in deep trouble because the Bush administration has used it as a vessel for its own political objectives, often disregarding the law and sullying the group’s reputation for professionalism and integrity,” Taylor told the committee. This is supported by accounts from six former attorneys of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice featured in the CAP/CCCR report.

Taylor also lamented the shift in priorities of the Criminal Civil Rights Section, which has resulted in undermining cases involving hate crimes and official misconduct; these are the cases that were once the staple of the Section’s work. Likewise, said Taylor, there has been a shift away from cases of traditional employment discrimination against minorities and toward “reverse discrimination” cases filed by white plaintiffs.

The Erosion of Rights report recommends that Congress establish a new Select Committee in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to conduct a two-year review of federal civil rights law implementation in order to properly investigate and oversee civil rights enforcement, Taylor told the Committee.

The new Select Committee, as detailed by the CAP/CCCR report, would:

  • Review the implementation of federal civil rights laws.
  • Conduct oversight hearings and investigations into the enforcement of civil rights laws.
  • Implement any needed changes to ensure better civil rights enforcement.

Rich also stressed the severe threats to civil rights enforcement under the Bush administration. Much of this, he said, has to do with political appointees undermining the institutional knowledge of career attorneys. The purging of career attorneys who historically maintained the institutional knowledge of how to enforce civil rights laws has made it difficult for the Division to do its job in upholding civil rights. Rich went on to discuss the negative impact of such tactics on the morale of career staff, as demonstrated by surprisingly high personnel turnover, especially in sections working on voting, employment, appellate, and special litigation.

This all shows, Rich said, an unprecedented effort on the part of the Bush administration to change the make-up of the career staff of the Civil Rights Division. “Vigilant oversight is an absolute necessity to restore the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Justice to the historic role of leading the enforcement of civil rights laws and protection of equal justice under the law,” he concluded in his congressional testimony.

Read the full testimonies:

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