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They're playing games, literally, in the Justice Department

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An open letter to Rep. Frank Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce-Justice-Science:

 

You're looking for unnecessary spending to cut from the federal budget. Well, one piece of low-hanging fruit ripe for picking is the bloated budget of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. It's something to discuss with Attorney General Eric Holder when he testifies before your Committee today.

Holder and President Obama are asking for $145.4 million for the division in FY 2012. That includes funding for 815 staff positions. Compared to FY2009 (the last Bush budget), they want a 14 percent increase in manpower and an 18 percent boost in spending.

If taxpayers were getting their money's worth, it might be worth considering. But the Civil Rights Division under the Obama administration has become a prime example of government waste.

You are aware of the division's extreme politicization under Holder, including the outrageous dismissal of the New Black Panther lawsuit after the case had already been won and the money wasted in stonewalling information and witness requests from Congress and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Then there's the shameful objection to a proposal by Kinston, N.C., to introduce non-partisan city council elections, the pronouncement that the division will not enforce federal law to ensure the integrity of state voter rolls, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes' out-spoken opposition to race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and politically motivated, selective responses to open record requests.

This is also the same Justice Department division where, during a Voting Section staff meeting called to address chronic tardiness, numerous attorneys demanded permission to arrive at work up to 30 minutes late without penalty. Others wanted to work from home.

At that 2009 meeting, then-Section Chief Christopher Coates refused to tolerate this brazen disregard of job rules. The new chief has reversed course and even allows litigation managers to work from home.

Working from home is supposed to improve productivity. But that certainly hasn't happened in the Voting Section. In the 26 months since Holder took over, it has filed only one lawsuit under Section 2 of the VRA, and that was a case developed during the Bush administration, filed by J. Christian Adams.

The section has also filed only four cases under the VRA's language minority provisions, all of which were also started during the Bush years. And the National Voter Registration Act? No action at all, other than to drop a lawsuit started under Bush.

To put this in context, the Bush administration - which Holder and his Civil Rights Division chief, Tom Perez, miss no opportunity to criticize - averaged two Section 2 cases every year, brought more cases under the language minority provisions than in all other years combined since 1965, and filed 10 cases under the National Voter Registration Act. All of this is easily verifiable at the division's own website.

Meanwhile, Holder and Perez preposterously claim that the division is "once again open for business."

That certainly doesn't jibe with reports from lawyers inside DOJ, who tell of Voting Section attorneys so bored that many spend the day playing computer Solitaire, watching videos, and venting at the lack of activity.

Attorneys beg for work and are told there is none. If Holder denies this, you should require that the DOJ Inspector General provide the evidence that I am told they have already collected on this point. Similar problems plague the division's Employment and Special Litigation Sections.

Perhaps we should be thankful that the ideologues inhabiting both the political leadership and career supervisor positions in the division aren't wreaking more havoc. But this is no way to run a government. American taxpayers should not have to fund such nonsense.

A former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Hans von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.

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