Inside Account of How Bush DoJ Was Used as Partisan Tool to Serve GOP Interests

Brian Zick

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Joseph D. Rich was chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's civil right division from 1999 to 2005. He now works for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. He wrote this op-ed in today's LA Times, "Bush's long history of tilting Justice." THE SCANDAL unfolding around the firing of eight U.S. attorneys compels the conclusion that the Bush administration has rewarded loyalty over all else. A destructive pattern of partisan political actions at the Justice Department started long before this incident, however, as those of us who worked in its civil rights division can attest.I spent more than 35 years in the department enforcing federal civil rights laws — particularly voting rights. Before leaving in 2005, I worked for attorneys general with dramatically different political philosophies — from John Mitchell to Ed Meese to Janet Reno. Regardless of the administration, the political appointees had respect for the experience and judgment of longtime civil servants.Under the Bush administration, however, all that changed. Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities. RIch points to a specific example of a "loyal Bushie" - Bradley Schlozman - who gained his appointment through the Patriot Act loophole which eliminated the need for Senate confirmation. Schlozman, for instance, was part of the team of political appointees that approved then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's plan to redraw congressional districts in Texas, which in 2004 increased the number of Republicans elected to the House. Similarly, Schlozman was acting assistant attorney general in charge of the division when the Justice Department OKd a Georgia law requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls. These decisions went against the recommendations of career staff, who asserted that such rulings discriminated against minority voters. The warnings were prescient: Both proposals were struck down by federal courts.Schlozman continued to influence elections as an interim U.S. attorney. Missouri had one of the closest Senate races in the country last November, and a week before the election, Schlozman brought four voter fraud indictments against members of an organization representing poor and minority people. This blatantly contradicted the department's long-standing policy to wait until after an election to bring such indictments because a federal criminal investigation might affect the outcome of the vote. The timing of the Missouri indictments could not have made the administration's aims more transparent.

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