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DOJ political appointees changing Civil Rights Division hiring, focus

[JURIST] Less than half of lawyers hired to work in the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division [official website] since 2003 have a background in civil rights, according to resumes obtained by the Boston Globe through a Freedom of Information Act request. In late 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft [official profile] changed hiring procedures throughout the department, replacing traditional hiring committees consisting of veteran career lawyers with panels made up of political appointees. Subsequent to the change in hiring practices, the number of new lawyers hired with a background in civil rights law has dropped dramatically, and there has been a sharp increase in the number of new lawyers with strong conservative credentials. There has also been a shift in the types of cases the division is pursuing. The division, which was established in 1957 [DOJ historical perspective, PDF] to pursue civil rights claims against local and state governments and approve election law changes in areas with a history of voter discrimination, has been filing an increasing number of lawsuits in the past several years alleging reverse discrimination against whites and religious discrimination against Christians.

A DOJ spokesman defended the new hiring practices, saying the agency only hires qualified lawyers, and other supporters say that the change was necessary to bring balance to the traditionally liberal civil rights division. Meanwhile, after the Washington Post controversially reported last November that lawyers were leaving the Civil Rights division in record numbers [JURIST report; DOJ response], staffers told the Globe that morale continues to be low and that experienced attorneys are leaving the department because of the shift in agenda. Sunday's Boston Globe has more.

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