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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Church and State

This discusses John Ashcroft's "profound" changes to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department with the help of Monica Goodling and others:

Justice's Holy Hires, by Dahlia Lithwick, Commentary. Washington Post: Monica Goodling had a problem. As senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Justice Department liaison to the White House, she no longer seemed to know what the truth was. ...

Last week, through counsel, Goodling again refused to testify about her role in the firings of several U.S. attorneys for what appear to be partisan reasons. Then on Friday, she resigned, giving no reason. Asserting her Fifth Amendment privilege..., she somehow thought she might be on the hook for criminal obstruction.

A 1995 graduate of Messiah College, an evangelical Christian school, and a 1999 graduate of Pat Robertson's Regent University Law School, Goodling['s] ... chief claim to professional fame appears to have been loyalty to the president and to the process of reshaping the Justice Department... A former career official there told The Washington Post that Goodling "forced many very talented career people out of main Justice so she could replace them with junior people that were either loyal to the administration or would score her some points." And as she rose at Justice, a former classmate said, Goodling "developed a very positive reputation for people coming from Christian schools into Washington looking for employment in government..." ...

Goodling is one of 150 graduates of Regent University who have served in this administration, as Regent's Web site proudly proclaims. Pretty impressive for a 29-year-old school. The university says that "approximately one out of every six Regent alumni is employed in some form of government work." And that's precisely what its founder desired. The school's motto is "Christian Leadership to Change the World." Former attorney general John Ashcroft teaches at Regent, and graduates have obtained senior positions in the Bush administration. The express goal is not only to tear down the wall between church and state in America but also to enmesh the two.

Jeffrey A. Brauch, the law school's dean, urges that students reflect upon "the critical role the Christian faith should play in our legal system." Jason Eige (Class of '99), senior assistant to Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, puts it pithily in the alumni newsletter: "Your Résumé Is God's Instrument."

This legal worldview meshed perfectly with that of Ashcroft -- a devout Pentecostal who forbade use of ... the phrase "no higher calling than public service," on documents bearing his signature. ...

One of Ashcroft's most profound changes was to the Civil Rights Division, started in 1957 to fight racial discrimination in voting. Under Ashcroft, career lawyers were systematically fired or forced out and replaced by members of conservative or Christian groups or folks with no civil rights experience. In the five years after 2001, the Civil Rights Division brought no voting cases -- and only one employment case -- on behalf of an African American. Instead, the division took up the "civil rights" abuses of reverse discrimination -- claims of voter fraud or discrimination against Christians. On Feb. 20, Gonzales announced a new initiative called the First Freedom Project to carry out "even greater enforcement of religious rights for all Americans." In his view, the fight for a student's right to read a Bible in school is as urgent as the right to vote.

We may agree or disagree on that proposition, but it certainly explains how Goodling came to confuse working to advance Gonzales's agenda with working to advance God's. But while God may well want more prayer in public schools, it's not clear that He wanted David Iglesias fired on a pretext.

Is there anything wrong with legal scholarship from a Christian perspective? Not that I see. Is there anything wrong with a Bush administration that disproportionately uses graduates from Christian law schools to fill its staffing needs? Not that I see. It's a shorthand, no better or worse than cherry-picking the Federalist Society or the American Bar Association. I can't even get exercised over the fact that Gonzales, Karl Rove and Harriet Miers had their baby lawyers making critical staffing decisions. The baby lawyers had extremely clear marching orders.

No, the real concern here is that Goodling and her ilk somehow began to conflate God's work with the president's. ... The dream of Regent and its counterparts, such as Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, is to redress perceived wrongs to Christians, to reclaim the public square and reassert Christian political authority. And while that may have been a part of the Bush/Rove plan, it was only a small part. Their real zeal was for earthly power. ... In the end, Goodling and the other young foot soldiers for God may simply have run afoul of the first rule of politics, codified in Psalm 146: "Put not your trust in princes, in mere mortals in whom there is no help."

Why do we have to choose between just these two alternatives? Why is the tradeoff here necessarily between the rights of Christians and the rights of African Americans? Why can't the resources be drawn from another source (the budget pressures and tradeoffs forced by the Iraq war come to mind)? Leaving aside the legitimacy of the claims of civil rights violations, if both types are problems, add the resources to the Civil Rights Division needed to bring both types of cases. Protection of civil rights ought to be a primary responsibility of government (and intimidation of groups through the use of voter fraud cases doesn't count).

This is not a situation where the rights of different groups are in conflict, a situation where competing interests must be weighed and balanced, it is a matter of resources and priorities. In this instance, there's just no reason to sacrifice the civil rights of one group of Americans to pursue the rights of another - we could find the money somewhere if it was a priority - unless it is believed that there is relatively little value, political or otherwise, to pursuing voting and employment rights cases on behalf of African Americans.

Update: In comments marcel says, correctly, read your own blog!:

Why do we have to choose between just these two alternatives? Why is the tradeoff here necessarily between the rights of Christians and the rights of African Americans?

See Krugman's recent column on income inequality and the plight of the 'Publican party.

The column marcel mentions is "Distract and Disenfranchise":

I have a theory about the Bush administration abuses of power that are now, finally, coming to light. Ultimately, I believe, they were driven by rising income inequality. ...[T]oday’s Republicans can’t respond in any meaningful way to rising inequality, because their activists won’t let them. ...

The Republican Party’s adherence to an outdated ideology leaves it with big problems. It can’t offer domestic policies that respond to the public’s real needs. So how can it win elections? The answer, for a while, was a combination of distraction and disenfranchisement. ...

But distraction can only go so far. So the other tool was disenfranchisement: finding ways to keep poor people, who tend to vote for the party that might actually do something about inequality, out of the voting booth. ... And disenfranchisement seems to be what much of the politicization of the Justice Department was about.

Several of the fired U.S. attorneys were under pressure to pursue allegations of voter fraud — a phrase that has become almost synonymous with “voting while black.” Former staff members of the Justice Department’s civil rights division say that they were repeatedly overruled when they objected to Republican actions, ranging from Georgia’s voter ID law to Tom DeLay’s Texas redistricting, that they believed would effectively disenfranchise African-American voters.

I probably should have also said more about the "express goal ... to tear down the wall between church and state" because it's part of a bigger issue, the lack of respect for the Constitution from those who proclaim its virtues, a source of some of our current troubles. Looks like I could still use more help on this one...

Update: Dee Kevin Drum for more on DOJ hiring practices and Regent University.

    Posted by on Saturday, April 7, 2007 at 10:16 AM in Economics, Politics, Religion | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (7)


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