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Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee - Oversight Hearing on the Employment Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC


Oversight Hearing on the Employment Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

<BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT>

REP. MELVIN WATT (D-NC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I guess there's a tendency sometimes for us to kind of segment -- compartmentalize is what they used to call it when President Clinton was in office -- into (little silos ?) here, but I am deeply troubled by something that I don't think is something that we can ignore.

We've had testimony from the attorney general and various people in that office about the politicization of hirings of U.S. attorneys. And there is a profound article date July 23, 2006 in which the Boston Globe reporter made some interesting charges, which I would like to go through with you and have you either confirm or refute.

He said, "In an acknowledgement of the department's special need to be politically neutral, hiring for career jobs in the Civil Rights Division under all recent administrations -- Democrat and Republican -- had been handled by civil servants, not political appointees. But in the fall of 2002, then Attorney General John Ashcroft changed the procedures. The Civil Rights Division disbanded the hiring committees made up of veteran career lawyers." Are you aware that that happened?

MR. AGARWAL: Yes, Congressman.

REP. WATT: Okay, all right.

"For decades, such committees have screened thousands of resumes, interviewed candidates and made recommendations that were only rarely rejected. Now, hiring is closely overseen by Bush administration political appointees to Justice, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions. The profile of the lawyers has since changed dramatically -- according to the resumes of successful applicants to the Voting Rights employment litigation and appellate sections.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Globe obtained the resumes among hundreds of pages of hiring data from 2001 to 2006. Hires with traditional civil rights backgrounds -- either civil rights litigators or members of civil rights groups -- have plunged. Only 19 of the 45 lawyers hired since 2003 in those three sections were experienced in civil rights law, and of those, nine gained their experience either by defending employers against discrimination lawsuits or by fighting against race-conscious policies.

Meanwhile, conservative credentials have risen sharply. Since 2003, the three sections have hired 11 lawyers who said they were members of the conservative Federalist Society. Seven hires in the three sections are listed as members of the Republican National Lawyers Association, including two who volunteered in the Bush-Cheney campaigns. Several new hires worked for prominent conservatives, including Whitewater Prosecutor Kenneth Starr, Meese, Trent Lott, Pickering, six listed Christian organizations that promote socially conservative views. The changes in those three sections are echoed in varying degrees throughout the civil rights division, according to current and former staffers.

At the same time, the kind of cases the Civil Rights Division is bringing have undergone a shift. The division is bring fewer voting rights and employment cases involving systematic discrimination against African-Americans and more alleged reverse discrimination against whites and religious discrimination against Christian. There's been a sea change in the types of changes brought by the division and that is not likely to change in a new administration, because they are hiring people who don't have an expressed interest in traditional civil rights enforcement, said one former employee."

Do you have any dispute with anything that I have read here?

MR. AGARWAL: Yes, I do -- with respect, Congressman.

REP. WATT: Well, I mean, I whispered to my colleague on my left here -- Mr. Scott -- that I don't see much -- I see some gender diversity in this row behind you, but I -- this doesn't look like a civil rights litigating section to me. Now, maybe I'm just stereotyping people.

Tell me what about this you disagree with. Maybe that would be constructive. And give us some numbers --

REP. NADLER: The gentleman's time is expired. The witness --

REP. WATT: -- hiring. And give it to us in writing if you would, but give us whatever you want to say in response to what I'm saying.

REP. NADLER: The witness can respond briefly now and then hopefully more fully in writing.

MR. AGARWAL: Sure -- a couple of things. First of all, let me clarify my answer about the hiring committees. I understand that that allegation has been made. I wasn't at the department in 2002 so I don't have firsthand knowledge.

REP. WATT: Well, that's part of the problem. There ain't no experienced lawyers over there. That's part of the point that the article is making.

MR. AGARWAL: In terms of diversity --

REP. WATT: How long you been there?

MR. AGARWAL: I've been with the department two years, Congressman.

REP. WATT: And they sent you over here to testify about what's going on in the employment discrimination area?

MR. AGARWAL: I wasn't happy with that decision either, Congressman. (Laughter.)

REP. WATT: Okay. Well, that explains that! You're just as unhappy about it as I am -- maybe from a different aspect -- but at least we got some reaction out of you, I mean, you know! Go ahead. I'll shut up and let you explain whatever you want to explain.

MR. AGARWAL: Let me just say with respect to diversity in the ranks of the Civil Rights division: I think we have -- I think we have excellent diversity. The head of the employment litigation section is a Hispanic individual.

He's the first Hispanic --

REP. WATT: Just give me those numbers in writing. I want to know your general reaction to what I just said to you here, which is that the drawdown of experienced attorneys doing anything other than reverse discrimination cases is -- I mean, is there a staff over there who can do traditional civil rights cases? How -- why would be surprised if the number of cases is diminishing if the staff is not even attuned to that kind of discrimination?

MR. AGARWAL: Congressman, until very recently, two of the deputy chiefs in the Employment Section were African-Americans. One of those deputies left because he was -- he accepted a promotion to head up another component of the department. And in terms of our cases, we've enforced Title VII -- all of its provisions on behalf of all Americans. We've brought four pattern and practice cases on behalf of African-Americans and Hispanics. We have brought two cases in behalf of white Americans --

REP. NADLER: Mr. Agarwal, the time has expired and I want you to answer his question, but his question is not about how many pattern and practice case you brought. We went through that before. His question is about the drawdown. How many attorneys are still in the division or the -- in the division who have experience bringing traditional -- these types of traditional civil rights cases. That's the question, correct?

REP. WATT: Well, that's part of it, I guess. Yeah.

REP. NADLER: And the rest you can answer in writing but -- answer that, please.

MR. AGARWAL: A number of them. Two of our deputy chiefs, including our principal deputy, have been with the Employment Litigation Section for decades. They're long-term veterans, they --

REP. NADLER: How many such people are left?

MR. AGARWAL: I don't have an answer as to the average length of tenure.

REP. WATT: How many of the people sitting behind you have been here with than the department longer than three years? Everybody that's been with the department longer than three years, raise your hand -- that's on the front row there.

MR. AGARWAL: There are four people from the department, two of them --

REP. WATT: They can raise their hand.

If you've been with the department more than four years, raise your hand. Two of about 12 or 13 --

MR. AGARWAL: Four. We have four other people from the department here, Congressman.

REP. WATT: Where are they? They ain't raising their hands.

REP. NADLER: No, he's saying that only four other people are here from the department. Not everybody there is from the department, apparently.

REP. WATT: And the one that did raise her hand's with Legislative Affairs, not Ligitiation.

MR. AGARWAL: She's a valued member of the team. (Laughter.)

REP. WATT: I appreciate that --

REP. NADLER: (Gavel sound.) The time of the gentleman has expired. Mr. Agarwal, you will submit written answers, I assume, to the questions.

<BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT>


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