When Politics and Rights Collide: A Justice Department in Transition

As the country continues in its countdown toward an Obama Administration, one issue we should all want to hear more about is what an Obama Justice Department will look like under the helm of presumptive Attorney General Holder. And with good cause as we learn more and more what the Department looked like under the last eight years under Ashcroft and especially under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The fact that politics drove many appointments at the Department of Justice should, unfortunately, come as no surprise to anyone anymore. The real issue is that the ramifications of these appointments may not be known, and their impact not felt, for years to come. At that time it may be too late for the Obama administration, or future administrations, to do a thing about them.

By stacking the deck with partisans opposed to the very rights they were charged with protecting, the current administration sent a dangerous, and unfortunately consistent, message to its citizens and to the world. That message, that your rights are indeed alienable and expendable, is one Obama and his team have promised to undo.

Unfortunately they have their work cut out for them. Complaints about politics driving Civil Rights cases at the Department of Justice have been going on now for years. Redistricting decisions in particular have benefited the GOP and cast great doubt on the credibility of a Department once held as example of the best our government can be. Let’s hope that with the new administration the Department of Justice, and in particular, the Civil Rights division, can rebuild and rebrand so as to meet once again the charge of protecting our rights and fulfilling the promise, as well as the Constitutional guarantee, of equal access and equal treatment, regardless of political beliefs or affiliation.