Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Caveat Liberatores, Or: Hiring Troubles at the DOJ: NDNA

No Democrats Need Apply at the Department of Justice.

At least, it's an uphill battle, according to a report by the DOJ's Inspector General. ATL, NYTimes, and WaPo have all picked up the story. From WaPo:

Justice Department officials improperly used political and ideological factors to screen applicants for the agency's prestigious honors and summer intern programs, sometimes rejecting otherwise qualified candidates because of their ties to Democrats, internal auditors said in a report issued this morning.

And this bit from the NYT:

Justice Department officials over the last six years illegally used "political or ideological" factors to hire new lawyers into an elite recruitment program, tapping law school graduates with conservative credentials over those with liberal-sounding resumes, a new report found Tuesday.

And finally, ATL commenter reports this damning statistic:

2002 applicants: ACS, 0-7; FedSoc, 27-2.

2006 applicants: ACS, 5-2; FedSoc, 15-4.

Typically the American Constitution Society (ACS) means a liberal ideology and the Federalist Society (FedSoc) means a conservative one. (We're not members of either). The consensus seems to be that there has been some improvement in recent years, as the above figures purportedly indicate.

Anyway we're democrats (duh), and we thought about trying to work at the DOJ. Oh well . . .

Is it any surprise after the U.S. Attorney firing fiasco the Bush administration's legal team is tring to staff the DOJ with like-minded troglodytes who are interested in turning back the clock on civil rights, a women's right to choose, equal protection, etc etc and wants suspend the Constitution when it's convenient, extend the use of the death penalty, and flood the nation with guns?

Nope . . .

EDIT:  And now some samples from the report itself, extracted courtesy of xoxo

As the chart shows, [Honors Program] candidates whose applications indicated liberal affiliations were deselected at a higher rate (83 out of 150, or 55 percent) than candidates who had conservative affiliations (5 out of 28, or 18 percent) or neutral affiliations (98 out of 424, or 23 percent). . .

Candidates who [graduated from a USNWR Top 20 school and were in the top 20% of their class] but whose applications indicated liberal affiliations were deselected at a much higher rate (35 out of 87, or 40 percent) than candidates meeting the criteria who had conservative affiliations (1 out of 17, or 6 percent) or neutral affiliations (35 out of 275, or 13 percent).


The Civil Rights Division had 24 of its 52 [SLIP] candidates deselected, and appealed 1. That candidate was a student at Harvard Law School with an A- grade average, had interned at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of California, and was strongly recommended by an attorney in the front office of the Civil Rights Division who knew him. Rena Comisac, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, told us that after the appeal was submitted, [Chief of Staff to Deputy AG Michael Elston] informed her that the Screening Committee had found an article on the Internet in which the candidate was quoted as expressing regret that he had not participated in the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle.


We asked Elston about a deselected SLIP candidate who was a student at Harvard Law School, graduated in the top 5 percent of his undergraduate class from the University of California, Berkeley, was an editor on Harvard’s human rights journal, had interned with a city attorney’s office and a state court judge, and had worked for 5 years in marketing before entering law school. In his essay, the candidate referred to his perception that working for the government would be “work for the people” where “principles forged by experience, prudence and moral obligation” would guide the work. In his last line of the essay, the candidate stated, “It is precisely this ability to have my principles guide my work that inspires me to be a government lawyer.” Elston thought he would have reacted negatively to that last sentence because “I believe that a civil servant enforces the law impartially [and] often times is called upon to set aside his or her own beliefs.”


We discussed with Elston appeals of specific candidates. For example, we asked Elston why he denied the appeals of two candidates by the Civil Division. One candidate was a student at Harvard Law School, had an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, had worked for Planned Parenthood and a Democratic Senator, and had received high praise for her work during a SLIP internship the previous summer. Another candidate had graduated sixth in his law school class from the University of Alabama, had been a member of the law review, had interned for the Public Defender Service, currently was clerking for a federal judge, and had written a paper on the detention of aliens under the Patriot Act.

Elston’s only explanation for deselecting these candidates was that he was “pretty offended” by the Civil Division’s appeal, which stated that the Division screeners had taken the responsibility of selecting candidates seriously and “given the care we exercise in making these selections, we would urge some deference to the difficult choices.” Elston said he found the appeal offensive because the Division employees were “basically saying we know better” and “you should defer to us.” However, Elston could not explain why he accepted other candidates appealed by the Civil Division but denied these two candidates. He noted that his appeal decision e-mail to the Civil Division was sent late at night and added, “I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about them.”


We asked Elston why he denied the request of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam to interview a candidate who graduated in the top third of her class at Stanford Law School, was summa cum laude with an undergraduate degree from George Washington University, was clerking for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and had previously worked for the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military. Elston said he could not recall the reasons for his decision, but thought he may have struck the candidate based on a reference in her essay that being a federal prosecutor would afford her the opportunity to exercise prosecutorial discretion in deciding what charges were appropriate and whether to offer a plea bargain. Elston said this caused him to conclude that “this is the kind of AUSA that would in my view not necessarily stand up for the law with respect to sentencing and department policy.”


We asked Elston why he denied the appeal of a SLIP candidate who was a student at Yale Law School, a member of the Yale Law Journal, a Rhodes Scholar, a Truman Scholar, graduated summa cum laude from Yale College, interned with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, had researched national security and terrorism issues for Yale Law Professor Bruce Ackerman, and had worked for the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, the Coordinating Council for Children in Crisis, and the Legal Services Organization’s Trafficking Clinic. AAG Keisler had sent Elston an e-mail indicating that this candidate was the top priority among all those SLIP candidates that the Civil Division was appealing. Elston said that this candidate “looks like a perfectly outstanding candidate, although she doesn’t say much in terms of essay that would give us a view as to why she’s interested in public service.”


We also asked Elston about a SLIP candidate who was a third year student at Yale Law School, had secured a clerkship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for the fall of 2007, had a master’s degree in history from Harvard University, graduated cum laude from Yale College, had successfully served as a SLIP with the Department, and had a security clearance. The candidate’s application also stated that she had worked for a Democratic Congressman and had worked at the Yale Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic on human rights issues “arising from the war on terror.” Elston was unable to say why the candidate was deselected. Elston said he remembered being moved in a positive way by the personal essay the candidate had written about some difficulties in her childhood. However, Elston said he found this candidate’s essay “a little bit troublesome” because she said she wanted to work at the Department where she would “be able to consider both the needs of my client and also what is best for my country.” Elston said that “line attorneys in the Department of Justice don’t get to indulge themselves [by] deciding for themselves what’s best for the country.” Nevertheless, Elston said he did not think that statement in the essay would constitute a reason to disqualify somebody with an outstanding record and an otherwise great essay.

We asked Elston why he denied the appeal of a SLIP candidate who was a student at Stanford Law School, an editor on the Stanford Journal of International Law, President of the Stanford International Human Rights Association, and had graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern University. Elston said there was nothing familiar to him about the application so he could not explain why he did not approve it.

However, on reading the applicant’s essay when we showed it to him, Elston said that he had a negative reaction to her statement that working for the Department would stimulate her conscience as well as her brain and allow her to work on cases that she cared about. Elston stated: [T]hose kinds of things [in essays] strike me as being, as being an indication that this person views it all right to put their own judgment about what’s right and wrong ahead of what the law, or, or policy requires... But it’s just not the job of a line career attorney to, you know, decide in a metaphorical sense what’s right and wrong.

Elston said he took those kinds of considerations into account when reviewing the substance of applicants’ essays. He said that an attorney’s “job is to follow the policies of the Department even if you disagree with them. And so, that’s the kind of person that I’m looking for when I’m looking for a line Assistant.”

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