Every Single One: The Politicized Hiring of Eric Holder's Disability Rights Section

PJMedia’s ongoing series investigating the politicized hiring practices within the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department has exposed a liberal litmus test that applies for all new hires. Since Attorney General Eric Holder assumed control of the Department in January 2009, he has created a monoculture composed almost exclusively of left-liberal activists. It’s clear that aspiring attorneys with moderate or mainstream legal backgrounds face a “Do Not Apply” sign at the Department — a public department which is supposed to represent all Americans.


PJMedia needed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to extract the resumes identifying the new attorneys, and it is easy to see why the “Most Transparent Administration in History” fought so hard against their release. Indeed, their effort to populate every nook and cranny of the Division with agenda-driven activist attorneys is unprecedented.

Today’s installment of our series focuses on the Disability Rights Section, whose primary responsibility is to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The jurisdictional reach of the Section is vast; it monitors not only businesses but non-profits, local and state government, and even the practices of the federal government itself. The Section’s own website boasts that its work “affect[s] six million businesses and non-profit agencies, 80,000 units of state and local government, 49 million people with disabilities, and over 100 Federal agencies and commissions in the Executive Branch.”

The ADA is a signature achievement, and there is no doubt that it has helped to positively transform the lives of millions of Americans. I know, as I run a workshop each month for the mentally handicapped at a non-profit center outside Washington, D.C. The obligation of private sector employers and public sector municipalities to accommodate the needs of the disabled, however, must be balanced against what is financially reasonable and pragmatically appropriate. That need for balance is why an influx of partisan advocates can result in setbacks for an entire society.

The transformation within the Disability Rights Section explains why we see patently ridiculous enforcement dictates, such as threatening several prestigious universities with legal action because they took part in an experimental program to allow students to use the Amazon Kindle for textbooks.

Nine new career attorneys have been hired into the Disability Rights Section during the Obama administration. Just as is the case with each of the other sections that have been highlighted so far in this PJMedia series — the Voting Section, the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, the Special Litigation Section, the Education Section, the Employment Litigation Section, the Coordination and Compliance and Section, and the Housing and Civil Enforcement Sectionevery single one of the new Disability Rights Section lawyers easily satisfies a liberal litmus test.


Anne Langford: Ms. Langford, a $500 contributor to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, joins the Section following internships with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and the liberal Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Although she spent a number of years at a private law firm, she proudly notes on her resume that she was the firm’s representative to the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (WLCCR), co-chaired multiple “Associate to Associate Campaigns” to support the WLCCR, and served as an associate trustee of the organization.

Earlier in her career, she was teaching fellow and protégé of the militant Professor Lani Guinier at Harvard, whose views were so radical that President Clinton pulled her nomination as assistant attorney general for civil rights. Although it does not touch on legal issues, she also was a senior fellow at an advocacy organization called Humanity in Action, which states that it “educates, inspires and connects a global network of students, young professionals and established leaders committed to promoting human rights, diversity and active citizenship — in their own communities and around the world.”

Jennifer McDannell: Ms. McDannell comes to the Section after working at a large law firm that recently imploded. If she was typical of other attorneys at her firm, the extraordinary amount of time that she spent on pro bono matters there may help explain the firm’s demise. She represented both individuals and classes in lawsuits against state and federal agencies involving employment matters, police misconduct allegations, disability disputes, housing controversies, and purported unequal credit quarrels. One has to wonder if she actually had any time for paying clients.

Almost immediately after arriving at DOJ, she helped lead a lawsuit against the financially strapped city of Milton, Washington (population: 6,900). The lawsuit would force the small town to spend ten percent of its annual budget for a single bathroom in a park. The Department ignored pleas from the city that its economic plight was grounds for a reexamination of the lawsuit. Instead, the Department mandated that the municipality spend more than $350,000 to build a bathroom in the city’s main park. The per capita income for the impoverished town is $22,400.


An article in the Tacoma News Tribune described the city’s plight as follows:

An attorney for Milton pleaded with the Department of Justice in March to allow the city to tear down the shuttered restroom building and not replace it. Attorney Scott Snyder contended the city should not be forced to replace the men’s and women’s restrooms because of Milton’s “dire” economic situation. The restroom cost could reach 10 percent of Milton’s total annual budget, Snyder said. Milton has laid off workers, cut its budget and outsourced some city services in the past year to cope with declining revenues. The city projects a deficit of nearly $5 million by 2015. But the Department of Justice said the ADA requires that the city’s programs, services and activities must be accessible to people with disabilities.

One has to wonder if someone at the Justice Department has heard there is a recession underway. It appears there is no room for compromise under Eric Holder’s governance.
 Anne Raish: Ms. Raish has given generously to Democratic congressional candidates, including an extremely liberal (and ultimately unsuccessful) nominee named Benjamin Konop who ran for Congress from Toledo, Ohio. Before arriving in the Section, she won the New York State Bar Association president’s Pro Bono Service Award for her work on behalf of disabled individuals. Teaming up with Disability Advocates, Inc., the Urban Justice Center, and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, she prevailed against New York state’s refusal to provide mentally disabled adult home residents with community-based supportive housing.

The Justice Department redacted a number of activities from her resume. One has to wonder what was so politically embarrassing.

Regan Rush: Prior to her arrival in the Section, Ms. Rush worked as a supervisory attorney at the Mental Health Advocacy Project, a noble program that provides specialized services for people identified as having mental health or developmental disabilities. Before that, however, she clerked for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, where she focused primarily on opposing deportation of illegal aliens. She also clerked for Bay Area Legal Aid and interned for Prisoner Legal Services in San Francisco.


She really let her political activist streak shine during the Bush administration: she co-authored a public letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing the nomination of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the theory he had personally formulated policies that led to torture and mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Years earlier, as an undergraduate at Indiana University, she founded the “Student Coalition,” which was an activist organization claiming that the university — one of the most the liberal institutions in the country, and one then headed by uber-liberal Miles Brand — treated its minority and women professors in a racist way.

Elizabeth Savage: Ms. Savage, a veteran of the Carter and Clinton administrations, is a long-time partisan contributor to Democratic candidates. She donated thousands of dollars to Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Al Gore for their presidential campaigns as well as to many unsuccessful marginal Democratic candidates.

Emblematic of these campaigns was her 2008 support for hard-left candidate Judy Feder against moderate Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA). In 1997 she contributed to civil rights militant Ralph Neas for his campaign for Congress. For those unfamiliar with Neas, he was instrumental in leading the scorched-earth political campaign that defeated Robert Bork‘s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ms. Savage previously served as a political appointee in the Civil Rights Division during the Clinton administration and as a political appointee during the Carter White House. Now she has been permitted into the career civil service ranks at the Justice Department.

Brandy Wagstaff: Ms. Wagstaff was hired into the Section as part of Attorney General Holder’s Honors Program following her graduation from law school and clerkship with a liberal magistrate judge in Washington. She proudly references her membership in the liberal American Constitution Society on her resume, which no doubt eased her entry into the Division. Before entering law school, she worked as a paralegal in the Division’s Appellate Section, where she was initially hired during the Clinton administration.

Jana Erickson: Ms. Erickson was hired into the Section after spending nearly a decade in the General Counsel’s Office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of dealing with that office understands full well that finding a mainstream thinker there is like discovering aquatic life in the Dead Sea. Prior to her time at HUD, she worked as a staff attorney in the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education — another bastion of liberalism — and as a consultant at Programs for Accessible Living in North Carolina.


Nabina Sinha: Ms. Sinha is another Democratic donor, having contributed generously to the presidential campaigns of John Edwards in 2008 and John Kerry in 2004. She participated as a member of the Green Party of Texas and held a leadership post. For those of you not familiar with this activist group:

[The Green Party of Texas] was founded in March 1999 on the principles of social justice, grass-roots democracy, ecological wisdom and nonviolence. Priorities include electoral reforms, such as public financing and instant runoff voting, to loosen the grip of wealth on democracy; energy and transportation policies aimed at reducing consumption of fossil fuels and pollution; fair trade; and drug and criminal-justice reforms.”

Earlier in her career, she also served as a fellow at Texas Watch, a liberal advocacy organization that functions as a self-anointed watchdog of the Texas attorney general on consumer protection matters.

Joy Welan: Ms. Welan is another product of Attorney General Holder’s Honors Program, joining the Section just a year out of law school. It is easy to see what Holder found so appealing. The write-up on Ms. Welan at the website of the liberal Center for American Progress tells you all you need to know about her:

While [an undergraduate] at GW, Joy served as the president of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and organized a delegation to the March for Women’s Lives. She also interned at the Women’s Campaign Forum, Feminist Majority Foundation, Women’s Human Rights Project of Amnesty International USA, and National Women’s Law Center. …

While at Georgetown [Law Center], Joy represented survivors of domestic violence seeking protection orders, participated in a civil rights litigation clinic, led an unfunded chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ), spearheaded a campaign to secure funding for students working in pro-choice public interest summer internships, worked to ensure that students had access to information about insurance coverage for contraception, co-founded an organization to support law students pursuing careers in public interest law. During law school, Joy interned in the legal and policy research department of NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Disability Rights Project of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. Upon graduation, Joy received the National Association of Women Lawyers Award for her contributions to the advancement of women in society. She served on the national board of directors of LSRJ, sat on LSRJ’s Alumni Network Committee, and received LSRJ’s inaugural Cari Sietstra Award for Excellence in Organizing in recognition of her reproductive justice advocacy. She currently works as a trial attorney in the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, but she is participating in the [LSRJ’s Alumni Network Committee] on her own behalf.


Nine more career attorneys, every single one of whom is a devoted liberal.

There is nothing problematic with hiring liberals to work in the Justice Department. But contrary to the views of many in the civil rights community — including the current leadership at the Justice Department — there is also nothing wrong with hiring moderates or conservatives that reflect the many faces of America. Yet no such bipartisan (or nonpartisan) hiring standards are being employed by this administration. It is, as Hans von Spakovsky has written, clear evidence of a one-way street.

With Labor Day telethon season fast approaching, this is also a good time to update our scoreboard. So far, PJ Media has detailed 96 new hires in the Civil Rights Division. The results:

Liberals: 96
Conservatives: 0
Apolitical attorneys: 0

In seeking to build his new administration, President-elect Bill Clinton once vowed that he would build a government that “looked like America.” He was committed to choosing people of many different backgrounds and outlooks. In reviewing the efforts of Attorney General Holder, it is clear that there is only one America present: those exclusively with liberal activist backgrounds.

The leadership in the Civil Rights Division has decided to narrowly define “civil rights experience” to include exclusively prior employment with, membership in, or affiliation with left-wing advocacy organizations. Such a monoculture, however, is counterproductive. It limits or eliminates debate and makes fair and balanced enforcement of the law nearly impossible.

And where is the Office of Professional Responsibility during this period? Apparently, nowhere to be found. Perhaps that is because Holder installed as the new director of OPR a former staffer to ultra-partisan Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy who has already proven herself to be a Holder loyalist.

Unfortunately, this administration and its loyalists still don’t seem to get it.


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