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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Holder Vows to End Politicization of Civil Rights Division

January 21, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton

Eric Holder with President Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton at a Dec. 1 Obama-Biden press conference to announce national security nominees. Photo credit: Obama-Biden Transition Project under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Attorney General-designate Eric Holder Jr. vowed to end the politicization of the Civil Rights Division within the Justice Department if confirmed by the U.S. Senate. "The attempt to politicize the department will not be tolerated should I become attorney general of the United States," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee during his January 15 confirmation hearing.

For civil rights advocates, Holder's statements came as a welcome contrast to the recent politicization of the division, documented in a new report detailing how some of President Bush's appointees violated the law by hiring employees based on political affiliations for nonpolitical civil service jobs.

According to the report by the Inspector General at the Justice Department, Bradley Schlozman, a former senior Justice Department official, fired or reassigned attorneys whose politics he did not like. However, while testifying before Congress in June 2007 denied making politically motivated hiring decisions, despite the fact that, according to the report, he often boasted about wanting to only hire "conservatives" or "Right Thinking Americans."

"My tentative plans are to gerrymander all of those crazy libs rights out of the section," wrote Scholzman in a July 2003 email exchange, according to the report.

For his part, Holder expressed deep disappointment about the report's findings. "What we have seen revealed in these inspector general reports is almost unbelievable to me. It is clearly abhorrent," he said.

Created in 1957, the Civil Rights Division is charged with enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion, and national origin. At the hearing, Senator Schumer called the division the "crown jewel" of the Justice Department.

"It is my intention to devote a huge amount of time looking at the Civil Rights Division and restoring that division, making sure that there's a sense of mission," said Holder. "It is in some ways the conscience of the Justice Department. And I think in some ways you can measure the success of an attorney general's tenure by how the Civil Rights Division has done."

The Senate is expected to vote on Holder's nomination in the coming weeks.

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