5 US Senators, 13 House Reps Call for Probe of Dept. Of Justice
Staff Attorneys Said to be Silenced in Voting Rights Cases
By Matthew Cardinale, Editor, Atlanta Progressive News (December 11, 2005)
At least five US Senators and 13 US House Representatives have called for an investigation into the growing scandal involving political appointees at the US Department of Justice (USDOJ), according to letters obtained by Atlanta Progressive News (APN).
The Senators include Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-WI), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Arlen Specter (R-PA).
The Members of Congress include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Reps. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), Tom Lantos (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), and Henry Waxman (D-CA).
In recent weeks, memos leaked to The Washington Post have shown that staff attorneys for the USDOJ did not recommend passage of the Georgia Voter ID Law or Texas Redistricting Law. The professional staff attorneys’ recommendations were apparently overridden by US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or other senior officials at the USDOJ.
Both states, Georgia and Texas, are two of ten states that are currently required to receive USDOJ approval prior to making changes to their voting laws.
"We don’t know [the process by which staff recommendations were overruled], and that’s why there needs to be an investigation," Jennifer Crider, Spokesperson for US Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told Atlanta Progressive News.
Meanwhile, staff attorney Sharon Eubanks, who retired from the USDOJ in late November, told The Washington Post that her bosses, who were political appointees, showed little support for her team’s work on a US government case against the tobacco industry. Eubanks, former lead attorney on the case, said her team was forced to lower from $130 billion to $10 billion the amount they were asking the industry to pay for smoking cessation education programs.
As if that were not enough, a stunning seventh article in an ongoing series by (or co-written by) Dan Eggen in the Washington Post, also revealed that anonymous sources within the USDOJ say the Department is now enforcing a policy of banning staff attorneys from making recommendations on major voting rights cases. Eggen attributed these allegations to sources in an article by the Dallas Morning News; the claims were echoed in an Associated Press report from yesterday.
This would explain why, for instance, the staff attorneys’ memo recommending disapproval of the Georgia Voter ID Law did not seem to prevent the law from being enacted. Those conclusive sections are now said to have been removed from the final departmental recommendation on the law.
The more recent members of US Congress to join the call for an inquiry are the 5 US Senators listed above, as well as US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).
Previously, US Rep. David Scott (D-GA) and the ten Democratic members of the House Committee on Governmental Reform had written to US Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), who chairs the committee, calling for an investigation, in letters sent on November 21, 2005, and November 18, 2005, respectively.
"The Justice Department memo reveals a cynical manipulation of the democratic process designed to deny fair representation to millions of American citizens. It is inconsistent with our great democracy, and deserves a thorough and independent investigation," US Rep. Nancy Pelosi, wrote in a press statement December 02, 2005.
"As you know, the Committee is deeply concerned with what appears to be a trend within the DOJ away from vigorous prosecution of civil rights cases... I would appreciate it if you would report back to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as soon as possible, on the current priorities of the Civil Rights Division," wrote Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, in a letter to Attorney General Gonzales, on November 22, 2005.
"I would further request that in this report, you include all relevant trends and statistics of this division work. Include in your report whether or not the priorities of the division have changed and explain the decline of prosecutions of discrimination cases within the division. I would also like to know what prosecutions the Civil Rights Division is currently undertaking, and how that compares to the prosecutions of that division in the past. I would like to know if there has been a change in employment practices in this division and an explanation of the large turnover of career prosecutors in this division," Sen. Specter’s letter continued.
"We request that your report include an explanation of the decision making process which led to the approval of the Texas redistricting plan and the Georgia Voter ID requirements," wrote Sens. Dodd, Kennedy, Leahy, Obama, and Rep. Lewis, in a follow up letter to Gonzales dated December 05, 2005.
Atlanta Progressive News continues to follow this developing story.