An inquiry into the hiring practices at the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed that membership in certain organizations associated with liberal politics or progressive policy — including several Minnesota-based groups — prevented qualified candidates from gaining acceptance into two elite hiring programs.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted an investigation “concerning whether the political or ideological affiliations of applicants were improperly considered in the selection of candidates for the Attorney General’s Honors Program and the Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP) from 2002 to 2006.”
The report found that the two programs were “fundamentally changed” in 2002 by an Attorney General’s Working Group created by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft with the intent to give senior leadership greater influence in hiring decisions. That influence came in the form of a “screening committee” made up of political appointees who would “deselect” candidates based on political affiliation, organization membership and ideology.
The report states that in 2002 “candidates with Democratic Party and liberal affiliations apparent on their applications were deselected at a significantly higher rate than candidates with Republican Party, conservative or neutral affiliations.”
A compiled list of the liberal organizations that were flagged during the screening process included dozens of prominent organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood and the Nature Conservancy.
From 2003 to 2005 no deselections were made, but in 2006 Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez resurrected the screening committee.
During that time the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Minnesota Justice Foundation, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy were added to the list of liberal groups in which membership would get a qualified candidate deselected.
Paul Aasen, advocacy director for the non-partisan 501(c)3 organization Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), was dismayed upon learning of the group’s inclusion on the list. The former director of government relations and policy in Gov. Jesse Ventura’s office took particular exception to the extreme partisan nature of the deselecting process.
“I’m surprised that enforcing existing law is considered liberal,” Aasen said. “Conservation used to be a conservative cause.”
When asked why MCEA was included on the list, Aasen said, “I can’t give you a direct line,” noting that most of the group’s legal activity occurs in state courts involving state issues.
The politicization of the Department of Justice under the Bush administration has long been evident. In 2007, DOJ White House liaison Monica Goodling testified before Congress that the conservative credentials of former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Rachel Paulose helped earn her the position. Paulose resigned a few months later to take a position with the DOJ in Washington, D.C.
Paulose famously lashed out at her critics by saying, “The McCarthyite hysteria that permits the anonymous smearing of any public servant who is now, or ever may have been, a member of the Federalist Society; a person of faith; and/or a conservative (especially a young, conservative woman of color) is truly a disservice to our country.”
But there in the report’s appendix, along with the lists of liberal organizations flagged for deselection, are a handful of conservative organizations, including the Federalist Society, that received preferential treatment. It is that political and ideological bias that the OIG found to be a disservice to the country.
The report is the first of several investigations conducted in the wake of the DOJ scandal involving the politically motivated firing of eight U.S. Attorneys. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has already indicated he will comply with the report’s recommendations.