NO PART OF the Justice Department was more harmed by partisan politics during the Bush administration than the Civil Rights Division. Political litmus tests were inappropriately and illegally applied in hiring career and nonpolitical posts. (“Libs” and “pinkos” need not apply.) Department leaders de-emphasized and at times discouraged litigation in areas that had been central to the division’s mission, including voting rights, housing and employment discrimination. They often shunned cases against police departments and other institutions engaged in a “pattern or practice” of discrimination. Morale plummeted, leading to a mass exodus that sapped the division of skilled lawyers and institutional memory.
The New York Times reports that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. intends to refocus the division on core functions and hopes to hire more than 50 additional lawyers.
Significant advances have been achieved in protecting the voting rights of minorities and in combating discrimination in all facets of American life. But Mr. Holder is right to try to restore the vitality and integrity of the beleaguered division. Without the force and presence of the government, many of these advances could be imperiled.