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DOJ and voting rights

This WaPo article makes it seem as if the voting rights lawyers in the Justice Department are disinterested solons, whose advice the politicos at the top are ignoring, as in the Georgia voter ID case. My guess is that many of the non-political appointees are much more like the ex-employee quoted in the article, people committed to a particular vision of civil rights enforcement at odds with that offered by the Bush Administration. In other words, these bureaucrats aren't offering neutral expertise, which the Bush Administration is ignoring or overturning; they're pursuing an agenda that is as political as that pursued by the Bush Administration.

If you're not up to speed on this case, the page containing this WaPo article also has links to the memo some disinterested politically neutral bureaucrat leaked. Here's another WaPo article that provides crucial background (note the corrections at the top of the page). The money quote comes from Roger Clegg:

To Roger Clegg, the situation is also perfectly understandable. A former civil rights deputy in the Reagan administration who is now general counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity, Clegg said the civil rights area tends to attract activist liberal lawyers who are philosophically opposed to a more conservative approach.

"If the career people are not reflecting the policy priorities of the political appointees, then there's a problem," Clegg said. "Elections have consequences in a democracy."

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Discussions - 1 Comment

Joseph: so why does Gonzales feel compelled to argue (or perhaps actually believe), in the words of WaPo, "that politics play no role in civil rights decisions"? If it’s really just a clash of political visions and has nothing to do with faithfully implementing policies, why should Republicans like Gonzales bother to make the neutral competence claim?

I’m not saying that I disagree with you that there are, at bottom, real differences between particular visions of the way that Voting Rights Act enforcement should work, and that these differences have political heft. But if the ruling party is going to make that argument, they should be honest about it. Let’s have a real discussion about whether or not its a good idea for the federal government to allow states with a history of racial discrimination to pass avowedly neutral regulations that will probably have the empirical effect of keeping minorities disproportionately away from the polls.

There’s a limitation here, though. The difficulty with allowing such policies is that they’re self-reinforcing. Fewer minorities at the polls means, as Mill taught us a long time ago, fewer people to represent minority interests, which will mean less pressure to enforce restrictions on the ability of states to exclude minorities, which will lead to fewer minorities at the polls, and so on. Part of the reason why the neutral language is necessary is that it orbits these concerns.

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