A Nov. 13 article incorrectly said that the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division filed three friend-of-the-court briefs in fiscal 2005, down from 22 in 1999. The division filed 14 such briefs in 2005. The article also said that lawyer Richard Ugelow left the division in 2004. He left in 2002.
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Civil Rights Focus Shift Roils Staff At Justice
"Its enforcement of civil rights over the past five years has been negligent," Kennedy said in a statement. "Mr. Kim has promised to look closely at these issues and to increase the division's enforcement, and I believed he should be given a chance to turn the division around."
Critics point to several key statistics in arguing that Gonzales and the previous attorney general, John D. Ashcroft, have charted a dramatically different course for civil rights enforcement than previous administrations of both parties.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which includes a number of former Justice lawyers, noted in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the division has filed only a handful of cases in recent years dealing with employment discrimination or discrimination based on the statistical impact on women or minority groups.
The total number of criminal prosecutions is within the range of the Clinton administration, but a growing percentage of those cases involve prosecuting human smugglers, which have become a priority for the division only in recent years. Other types of civil rights prosecutions are down, from 83 in fiscal 2001 to 49 in 2005.
The Bush administration has filed only three lawsuits -- all of them this year -- under the section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits discrimination against minority voters, and none of them involves discrimination against blacks. The initial case was the Justice Department's first reverse-discrimination lawsuit, accusing a majority-black county in Mississippi of discriminating against white voters.
The change in emphasis is perhaps most stark in the division's appellate section, which has historically played a prominent role intervening in key discrimination cases. The section filed only three friend-of-the-court briefs last year -- compared with 22 in 1999 -- and now spends nearly half its time defendingdeportation orders rather than pursuing civil rights litigation. Last year, six of 10 briefs filed by the section were related to immigration cases.
William R. Yeomans, a 24-year division veteran who took a buyout offer earlier this year, wrote in an essay in Legal Affairs magazine that "morale among career attorneys has plummeted, the division's productivity has suffered and the pace of civil rights enforcement has slowed."
In an interview, Yeomans said some of the problems stem from the way the "front office" at Justice has treated career employees, many of whom have been forced to move to other divisions or to handle cases unconnected to civil rights. As an example of the strained relations, Yeomans points to the recent retirement party held for a widely admired 37-year veteran: Not one political appointee showed up.
At the same time, Ashcroft implemented procedures throughout Justice that limited the input of career lawyers in employment decisions, resulting in the hiring of many young conservatives in civil rights and elsewhere in the department, former and current lawyers have said.
"The more slots you open, the more you can populate them with people you like," said Stephen B. Pershing, who left the division in May and is now senior counsel at the Center for Constitutional Litigation, a Washington law firm that handles civil rights cases. "It's pretty simple really."
To Roger Clegg, the situation is also perfectly understandable. A former civil rights deputy in the Reagan administration who is now general counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity, Clegg said the civil rights area tends to attract activist liberal lawyers who are philosophically opposed to a more conservative approach.
"If the career people are not reflecting the policy priorities of the political appointees, then there's a problem," Clegg said. "Elections have consequences in a democracy."
Holland, the Justice spokesman, said critics are selectively citing statistics. For example, he said, the department is on the winning side of court rulings 90 percent of the time compared with 60 percent during the Clinton years. Federal courts are "less likely to reject our legal arguments than the ones filed in the previous administration," he said.
Ralph F. Boyd Jr., the civil rights chief from 2001 to 2003, agreed: "It's not a prosecutor's job to bring lots of cases; it's a prosecutor's job to bring the right cases. If it means fewer cases overall, then that's what you do."