Every Single One: The Politicized Hiring of Eric Holder's Special Litigation Section

Last week, PJMedia published the first three of a series of articles highlighting the new career attorneys hired into the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. The first two articles focused on the Voting Section; the third article focused on the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices.

Based on the resumes that PJMedia finally extracted from DOJ following a lengthy Freedom of Information Act battle, these stories show the absurdity of the left’s demagogic attacks on the Bush administration’s hiring practices. They also illustrate the hyper-politicized environment that has become the hallmark of the Justice Department under Eric Holder’s reign.

Today we feature the Division’s Special Litigation Section.

This Section is charged with enforcing federal civil rights statutes in the context of institutionalized persons, law enforcement agencies, and abortion clinics. The Section’s enforcement authority is supposed to be statutorily limited to situations involving a “pattern or practice” of unlawful or unconstitutional conduct by state or municipal government agencies. However, the attorneys in this unit enjoy incredibly broad discretion in deciding what investigations and cases to pursue, and their decisions often have significant financial (and political) consequences for their targets and taxpayers alike. Unfortunately, this power has been too often abused by the Section.

Anyone who doubts the havoc that renegade attorneys from the Special Litigation Section can inflict on municipal institutions need only read Heather MacDonald’s extraordinary piece -- “Targeting the Police: The Holder Justice Department Declares Open Season on Big City Police Departments” -- detailing the $100 million that the Los Angeles Police Department has been forced to incur as part of a draconian federal consent decree demanded by the Section’s legal staff. Or one can examine the (fortunately failed) efforts by Section attorneys during the Clinton administration to intimidate the state of New Jersey into radically modifying its law enforcement practices based on bogus allegations of racial profiling by state troopers.

Incredibly, the Section’s staff even tried to suppress the report that completely debunked the allegations. It was a sad state of affairs that eventually caused the Bush administration to have to remove the then-chief of the Section and force the line attorney involved to find alternative employment.

Some municipalities are finally beginning to fight back since Holder took power. In the past, most simply rolled over and agreed to whatever face-saving terms they could negotiate, even when they had not violated the law. Some simply succumbed to political pressure. Others assumed -- wrongly -- that the Section’s attorneys were apolitical and could be trusted to be fair and neutral in any investigation.

Reality is starting to set in, but there remains a long way to go. Any state or municipality that is even considering capitulating to the band of radicals occupying this Section owes it to itself to read this article. There have been 23 new career attorneys hired in the Section since the Obama administration came to office. Every single one has unequivocal liberal bona fides.

That’s what I call a real “pattern or practice” of ideological bias.

Jonathan Smith: Following the rather ignominious departure of the previous chief in 2010, the Civil Rights Division brought in Jonathan Smith to take the helm of the Special Litigation Section. And what a pick! Indeed, when it comes to liberal activists, Mr. Smith is right out of central casting. He served for eight years as executive director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia and spent the four years prior to that as the executive director of the Public Justice Center, an organization whose stated mission is “to enforce and expand the rights of people who suffer injustice because of their poverty or discrimination.”

He also spent another nine years as a staff attorney and executive director of the D.C. Prisoners’ Legal Services Project, advocating on behalf of criminals incarcerated in the nation’s capital. For local police departments that find themselves the subject of investigations by Mr. Smith’s shop, his biases will surely reinforce the notion that any expectation of neutrality in the Section’s probes is a pipe dream.

Shelly Jackson: Ms. Jackson was hired as one of the new deputy chiefs. Like many of her new colleagues, Ms. Jackson made a contribution ($450) to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Before arriving at Justice, she was an attorney and analyst in the Office for Civil Rights at both the Department of Education and the Department of Health & Human Services, two offices that are known to be hotbeds for liberal ideologues -- conservatives need not apply. Ms. Jackson had an earlier stint with the Special Litigation Section during the Clinton administration, but in a theme common to many of the Division’s new civil service hires she opted to leave just before President Bush came into office. Earlier in her career, Ms. Jackson also worked as a staff attorney at two liberal non-profit organizations: the Center for Law and Education and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, which supported the nomination of Goodwin Liu, someone so extreme that he was filibustered in the Senate.

Christy Lopez: Ms. Lopez is another new deputy chief. She, too, gave $750 to Barack Obama during his 2008 run for office, and she contributed another $500 to Democratic Senator Michael Bennet from Colorado. It is difficult to fathom how Ms. Lopez can even pretend to be balanced and neutral in her new position. After all, until the moment she arrived at DOJ, she served on the ACLU of Maryland’s Committee on Litigation and Legal Priorities. She also was vice president and a member of the Board of Directors of Casa de Maryland, a radical organization deeply hostile to immigration enforcement. As I have written before:

[Casa de Maryland] has encouraged illegal aliens not to speak with police officers or immigration agents; it has fought restrictions on illegal aliens’ receiving driver’s licenses; it has urged the Montgomery County (Md.) Police Department not to enforce federal fugitive warrants; it has advocated giving illegal aliens in-state tuition; and it has actively promulgated “day labor” sites, where illegal aliens and disreputable employers openly skirt federal prohibitions on hiring undocumented individuals.

On her resume, Ms. Lopez proudly references the paper she authored for the liberal American Constitution Society, entitled “The Problem with ‘Contempt of Cop’ Arrests.” She also highlights the presentation she gave on “Flying While Brown” at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s annual convention. She has made numerous media appearances alleging post 9/11 ethnic profiling. She is also a founding partner of Independent Assessment and Monitoring, which provided oversight of police departments and prisons. Given her overtly partisan and ideologically militant background, it is hard to understand how any law enforcement agency would agree to have her serve as a monitor. Perhaps they simply weren’t aware of her activism when agreeing to her presence. One can only hope these institutions don’t make a similar mistake in the future. Like Ms. Jackson (and so many others), Ms. Lopez also worked as a line attorney in the Special Litigation Section during the Clinton years, but just like Clinton’s political appointees, departed immediately after the Bush administration arrived in the White House.

(Incidentally, although this article is about the new hires into the civil service ranks of the Special Litigation Section, it is worth noting that the four other deputy chiefs promoted by Eric Holder who now serve under Mr. Smith have almost equally impressive liberal track records. One (Julie Abbate) was arrested at a World Bank protest, another (Mary Bohan) has made sizable contributions to the presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and John Kerry, the third (Bo Tayloe) worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the fourth (Judy Preston) is known by all as one of the biggest bleeding hearts in the Division. In short, anyone looking for even a hint of ideological balance in the Section’s leadership will be sorely disappointed. Targets of the Section’s enforcement efforts have been duly warned.)