Bush political appointees discriminated against job applicants to the Justice Department. According to an internal investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, the Justice Department rejected applicants for the Honors Program and the Summer Law Intern Program due solely to their affiliation with the Democratic Party and other liberal organizations. Those rejected included students who were at the top of their classes at prestigious law schools such as Yale and Harvard.
You are thinking “this is just the same as what the Bush administration has always done.” However, this is different and worth paying attention, to for four reasons.
First, unlike much of the Bush administrations previous politicization this is actually illegal. Federal law and Justice Department regulations prohibit discriminating based on political viewpoints in hiring for “career positions” such as the jobs these applicants were applying for. These were not positions like U.S. Attorneys where their hiring or firing can be political.
Second, political discrimination occurred broadly. Esther Slater McDonald, the Justice Department official responsible for most of the political discrimination, apparently engaged in internet searches to find comments or essays written by the candidates.
Third, and possibly most disturbing was the broad criteria for what constituted unacceptable liberalism. For example, individuals who had worked to defend indigent clients were rejected. The administration considered helping poor people who could not afford lawyers to be too left-wing. (It has been pointed out to me that in some contexts defending indigent clients can be a disguise for pushing actual liberal policies. I agree that this may occur occasionally but there’s no evidence that such considerations were at all relevant in these cases.) I can imagine few stronger demonstrations of how sick the current administrations values are.
Fourth, the long-term impact of these actions is bothersome. While the impact on summer interns may be small, for the permanent or semi-permanent positions this discrimination tilts the Justice Department in a specific political direction.
I have a certain personal interest in this issue. My brother is in law school now and he helped write amici briefs for the recent Supreme Court cases about Guantanamo detainees and related cases. I worry that if he applied for a position in the Justice Department, he might not get it due to his political work. I also have two good friends who are working this summer at legal-aid clinics. Will they be discriminated against if they want to work for the Justice Department?