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Every Single One: The Politicized Hiring of Eric Holder’s Voting Section

All sixteen new hires to the Voting Section have far-left resumes — which were only released following a PJM lawsuit. (This is the first in a series of articles about the Civil Rights Division’s hiring practices since President Obama took office.)

by
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Bio

August 8, 2011 - 12:00 am
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Recently released documents — disclosed by the Obama Justice Department only after a court battle — reveal that the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is engaging in politicized hiring in the career civil service ranks. Typical Washington behavior, you say? Except the hiring in question is nearly unprecedented in scope and significantly eclipses anything the Bush administration was even accused of doing. And the evidence of the current political activity is far less impeachable than what was behind the libelous attacks leveled at officials from the Bush years.

For nearly a year, the Civil Rights Division rebuffed PJ Media’s Freedom of Information Act request for the resumes of attorneys hired into the Division during the tenure of Eric Holder. PJM was finally forced to file a federal lawsuit earlier this year. Only then did Justice relent and turn over the documents. The result leaves little wonder why PJM’s request was met with such intense resistance.

The Department’s political leadership clearly recognized that the resumes of these new attorneys would expose the hypocrisy of the Obama administration’s polemical attacks on the Bush administration for supposedly engaging in “politicized hiring” — and that everyone would see just how militantly partisan the Obama Civil Rights Division truly is. Holder’s year-long delay before producing these documents — particularly when compared to the almost-instantaneous turnaround by the Bush administration of a virtually identical request by the Boston Globe back in 2006 — also shows how deep politics now runs in the Department.

As Richard Pollock of PJ Media observed in an article, none of this should surprise anyone even remotely familiar with Holder’s highly partisan nature. Indeed, Holder boasted to the American Constitution Society (an organization started as a liberal counterweight to the Federalist Society) back in June 2008 that the Obama Justice Department was “going to be looking for people who share our values,” and that “a substantial number of those people would probably be members of the American Constitution Society.” The hiring records from Holder’s initial thirty months in office underscore how serious he was about this mission.

This is the first in a series of articles by PJ Media about the Civil Rights Division’s hiring practices since President Obama took office. These accounts will put to the test Holder’s repeated (and all-too-rarely scrutinized) statement that ideological considerations play no role in the hiring of career attorneys in his Department — a test that the Department’s practices clearly fail.

The evidence will demonstrate that, in contrast to the Bush administration’s Civil Rights Division — which hired individuals from across the political spectrum — there has been nary a token conservative welcomed into the Division under Holder. More than that, though, this series will show that the ranks of new civil servants arriving in Holder’s civil rights shop in protected civil service slots are some of the most strident ideologues in Washington.

But don’t just take my word for it. Let the resumes speak for themselves.

We start today with the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section. This Section is responsible for enforcing, among other things, all aspects of the Voting Rights Act. This includes reviewing redistricting and other pre-clearance submissions under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that covered jurisdictions throughout the country must submit to the Justice Department for approval. Redistricting maps, voter ID statutes, citizenship verification laws, and a host of other politically contentious election issues rest in the hands of these Voting Section bureaucrats.

Long a refuge of partisan activists and ideological crusaders, the Section has been filling its ranks over the last 30 months with like-minded liberals ready to do the bidding of left-wing advocacy organizations. Sixteen attorneys have come on board in this hiring binge. Who are these new radicals?

Bryan Sells: Mr. Sells was recently hired as one of the Voting Section’s new deputy chiefs. He comes to the Department from the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, where he worked for nearly 10 years as a Senior Staff Counsel. During his tenure, his organization strongly opposed all voter ID laws, and challenged the right of states to verify the U.S. citizenship of individuals seeking to register to vote. He also characterized state felon disenfranchisement laws – which are expressly authorized in the Constitution — as a “slap in the face to democracy,” and consistently took the most aggressive (and generally legally unsupportable) positions on redistricting cases throughout the country.

Meredith Bell-Platts: The other new deputy chief hired by the Voting Section, Meredith Bell-Platts, also comes from the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, where she, too, spent nearly 10 years. Much of her time there was devoted to blasting voter ID requirements, which she claimed were motivated by people who do not want to see blacks vote (an issue on which she consistently lost in court). Before arriving at the ACLU, Ms. Bell-Platts was a founding member of the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law, a publication whose stated “mission is to explore the impact of gender, sexuality, and race on both the theory and practice of law” and thereby “complement[] a long tradition of feminist scholarship and advocacy at the [Georgetown] Law Center.”

Anna Baldwin: While all of the new trial attorneys hired into the Voting Section have streaks of radicalism, few can match Ms. Baldwin. A financial contributor to the Obama presidential campaign, she clerked for two liberal Clinton appointees on the federal bench and then worked briefly at Jenner & Block (a D.C. law firm which has been a major feeder of Democratic political appointees to the Obama administration), where she primarily pursued liberal positions in pro bono litigation. During law school, she interned at the International Labor Rights Fund and Women’s Agenda for Change.

Prior to that, Baldwin served for three years as field coordinator for Equality Florida, where she “coordinated lobbying and state legislative policy work on behalf of Florida’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities.” Meanwhile, in her undergraduate days at Harvard, she was a member of the “Queer Resistance Front” and was frequently covered in the Harvard Crimson for her radical antics. A review of these campus newspaper articles suggests that Ms. Baldwin will have to work very hard to separate her activist politics from her role as an apolitical civil servant. Then again, if she takes her cues from most of her Voting Section colleagues, she won’t even need to attempt such separation. As the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case showed, partisanship and law enforcement are one and the same in Holder’s Civil Rights Division.

Risa Berkower: Ms. Berkower was hired into the Voting Section following a clerkship with U.S. District Judge Christopher Droney, a liberal jurist who President Obama recently nominated to the Second Circuit and whose brother is the former state chairman of the Connecticut Democratic Party. During law school at Fordham, she interned in the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, a notorious hotbed of left-wing activity. She also worked on the “Student Hurricane Network” with members of the NAACP LDF, the Advancement Project, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. It was in her undergraduate days at Yale, though, that she really let her left-wing political colors shine. While on the Yale College Council, she wrote an editorial advocating support of unionization of Yale graduate students and advocated “neutrality” in card-check reform (which has become a major Obama initiative as a sop to organized labor).

It is quite ironic that a lawyer who refused to oppose the effort by unions to get rid of the secret ballot, a fundamental mainstay of our democracy, is now charged with protecting voting rights. All of the leadership positions on Berkower’s resume were conspicuously redacted by the Obama administration in its FOIA response to PJM. And lest you think she abandoned her radical ways since arriving in the Civil Rights Division, Ms. Berkower is the same Voting Section attorney who negotiated the outlandish consent decree with the state of Rhode Island earlier this year in a case under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act which, as Christian Adams detailed extensively, ignored the requirements of federal law and represented a gross abuse of federal authority.

Daniel Freeman: Mr. Freeman comes to the Voting Section following a fellowship at the New York Civil Liberties Union. He previously interned at the ACLU, where he assisted the organization with its efforts to attack the Bush administration’s national security policies. He also helped to challenge the “state secrets privilege” and to support the rights of terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay during an internship at Human Rights First.

On his resume, Freeman proudly notes his membership in the liberal American Constitution Society, as well as his service as co-chair of the Yale Law School Democrats. Of course, being a member of the American Constitution Society does not bar you from federal employment. Yet the Bush administration was castigated for hiring lawyers who were members of the Federalist Society. Incidentally, Mr. Freeman is helping lead the Voting Section’s review of redistricting submissions from the state of Alabama.

Jenigh Garrett: Ms. Garrett worked for approximately five years as an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), where she worked on voting-related litigation. She co-drafted the NAACP LDF’s amicus brief in Crawford v. Marion County Board of Elections, claiming that voter ID laws are unconstitutional (a position the Supreme Court rejected in an opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens).

Garrett also was a member of the organization’s litigation team in Hayden v. Paterson, arguing that felon disenfranchisement laws violate the Voting Rights Act (a position the Second Circuit rejected). She is a member of the American Constitution Society and recently gave a presentation at Yale Law School on “The Future of Black Legal Scholarship and Activism.” Although DOJ’s FOIA shop notably redacted her other activities on her resume, perhaps legislators in Virginia can ask her about them: she is the redistricting point of contact for the Commonwealth.

Abel Gomez: Mr. Gomez initially came to the Voting Section in the waning days of the Clinton administration as part of a wave of hiring engineered by former Acting Assistant Attorney General Bill Yeomans. The intent: stack the Civil Rights Division with left-wing activists before President Bush took office. Gomez had previously served for six years as a public defender in Tallahassee, Florida. In 2007, he left the Civil Rights Division to join another component of the Department of Justice, but was eager to rejoin the Voting Section once Obama and Holder were in charge. In addition to his voting work, FEC records reveal that he is a significant financial contributor to the “Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund” and to organizations opposing California’s Proposition 8 (Marriage Protection Act).

Bradley Heard: Before joining the Voting Section, Mr. Heard worked for a number of years at the Advancement Project, a radical left-wing voting organization. The Advancement Project has worked closely with the ACLU, NAACP LDF, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and other liberal advocates to oppose voter ID statutes, felon disenfranchisement laws, and citizenship verification regulations, and to take myriad other militant positions on state and federal voting rights laws. Mr. Heard fit right in at the Advancement Project, having previously founded the Georgia Voter Empowerment Project, which describes its mission as increasing the “civic participation levels of progressive-minded Georgians.”

Amusingly, before moving to Washington, Mr. Heard had a nasty breakup with his plaintiff’s civil rights firm in Atlanta. He commenced litigation against his partners, who in turn claimed he was engaging in misconduct. Heard then sought criminal arrest warrants against his former partners, charging that they had engaged in false voter registration and voting by an unqualified elector, both felonies. The court declined to issue the warrants. South Carolina officials can ask Mr. Heard about these events during his review of the state’s redistricting submission; after all, he is the point of contact for the Voting Section.

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