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Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein for WaPo report: The Justice Department is removing political appointees from the hiring process for rookie lawyers and summer interns, amid allegations that the Bush administration had rigged the programs in favor of candidates with connections to conservative or Republican groups, according to documents and officials.The decision, outlined in an internal memo distributed Thursday, returns control of the Attorney General's Honors Program and the Summer Law Intern Program to career lawyers in the department after four years during which political appointees directed the process.
The honors program, established during the Eisenhower administration, is a highly regarded recruiting program that attracts thousands of applicants from top-flight law schools for about 150 spots each year and has been overseen for most of its history by senior career lawyers at Justice. Then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft reworked the program in 2002, shifting control from career employees to himself and his aides.The changes alarmed many current and former Justice officials, who feared that the Bush administration was seeking to pack the department with conservative ideologues. Many law school placement officers said in 2003 that they noticed a marked shift to the right in the students approached for honors program interviews.Complaints about the program emerged again this month after Senate and House investigators received a letter from the unidentified Justice employees, who alleged that hiring at the department was "consistently and methodically being eroded by partisan politics." The letter singled out the honors and intern programs, alleging that senior political appointees appeared to reject applicants who "had interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for a 'liberal' cause, or otherwise appeared to have 'liberal' leanings." David Kurtz at TPM takes particular note of this passage in the WaPo report: According to a former deputy chief in the civil rights division, one honors hire was a University of Mississippi law school graduate who had been a clerk for U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. about the time the judge's nomination by President Bush to a federal appeals court provoked opposition by congressional Democrats, who contended that Pickering was hostile to civil rights.A few months after he arrived, that lawyer was given a cash award by the department, after he was the only member of a four-person team in the civil rights division who sided with a Georgia voter-identification law that was later struck down by the courts as discriminatory to minorities, according to two former Justice lawyers. David follows up with this post regarding the Attorney General Awards, DOJ's highest honor:I couldn't help but notice that one of the recipients of last year's Attorney General Award for Fraud Prevention was Robert E. Coughlin, II.Coughlin was the chief of staff to the head of DOJ's criminal division until his quiet resignation earlier this month, first reported yesterday, allegedly because he is facing scrutiny in the Jack Abramoff investigation.The award "recognizes exceptional dedication and effort to prevent, investigate, and prosecute fraud and white collar crimes."