For some former career staff in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Bradley Schlozman's face-off with the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee this week couldn't have come soon enough.
"I'm glad to see it," says Toby Moore, a researcher who worked in the division's voting section from 2000 to 2005. "It's way overdue."
That's because Schlozman, who was a senior political official in the division from 2003 to 2006, including five months as its acting assistant attorney general, has emerged as the latest lightning rod for allegations that the Justice Department has become politicized during the Bush administration.
Schlozman will testify Tuesday about his activities not only in the Civil Rights Division but also in his brief stint as interim U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Missouri, where he replaced Todd Graves -- one of nine U.S. Attorneys to have been fired by the Justice Department last year.
In particular, Democrats plan to press Schlozman about his role in the hiring of career attorneys into the voting and appellate sections of the Civil Rights Division, and whether Schlozman inappropriately considered the political loyalties of candidates -- a potential violation of the Hatch Act and civil service laws governing federal hiring.
The allegations are similar to the admission last month by Monica Goodling, the former senior adviser to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, that she had inappropriately taken politics into account in making hiring decisions for career federal prosecutors and immigration judges.
Congress, of course, isn't the only body reviewing Schlozman's tenure at the Civil Rights Division. Last week the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of the Inspector General, which are conducting a joint investigation into the U.S. Attorney firings, announced that they had broadened their probe to include allegations of politicization in hiring at the Civil Rights Division.
GHOSTS IN THE GRAVES-YARD
Schlozman graduated from The George Washington University Law School in 1996 and spent three years clerking for federal judges. He then spent two years at the Washington, D.C., firm then known as Howrey Simon Arnold & White before joining the Justice Department on the staff of then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.
In 2003, when Schlozman became a deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division overseeing the voting section, he took charge of hiring, a responsibility historically handled by career attorneys. "At that point there was no transparency; you didn't know how hiring was done," says Joseph Rich, who spent 37 years in the Civil Rights Division and was chief of the voting section from 1999 to 2005. "You just knew the front office in the Civil Rights Division was handling all the hiring."
An investigation by The Boston Globe last year showed that Schlozman's hiring in the voting section, which oversees changes to election laws in states with a history of discrimination, changed markedly from that of his predecessors. That investigation, based on Freedom of Information Act requests, found that seven of the 14 career lawyers hired under Schlozman belonged to either the Republican National Lawyers Association or the right-leaning Federalist Society. In the previous two years, according to the Globe, none of the section's eight hires had such backgrounds.
In addition to his hiring policies, Schlozman is also expected to be grilled by senators on the division's stance in a number of controversial cases. In 2003, an eight-person team from the voting section's career staff universally recommended that the Justice Department oppose a controversial Texas redistricting plan backed by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
That recommendation was overruled by political appointees, and Republicans won five additional Congressional seats in Texas in 2004. (In a 5-4 decision last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the redistricting plan.)
In 2005, the department signed off on a voter identification law in Georgia that much of the Justice Department's career staff -- including Moore -- believed would have a discriminatory effect on minority voting. A federal judge in Georgia would later issue an injunction blocking the new law from taking effect.
Schlozman also pushed for the Justice Department to bring a civil suit against the state of Missouri for failing to force local officials to strike the names of ineligible voters from voter rolls in a number of counties. Graves, then the U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Missouri, had chosen not to pursue it. "I had reservations about the case," Graves told Legal Times last week. "I just absented myself from the whole situation."
Democrats have suggested that Graves' firing was linked to his decision in the voter fraud case, but Graves says he has no evidence of that. The suit was eventually dismissed by a federal court in Missouri this spring. In her April 13 decision, Judge Nanette Laughery of the U.S. Court for the Western District of Missouri noted the Justice Department had "not shown that any Missouri resident was denied his or her right to vote ... Nor has the United States shown that any voter fraud has occurred."
Schlozman is also certain to be queried about a voter fraud indictment he brought during the closely fought 2006 U.S. senate race in Missouri. Those charges, against four registration workers for a Democratic-leaning group, were announced less than a week before the election -- a departure from the Justice Department guidelines discouraging such charges so close to an election.
Schlozman was transferred to a lower profile position at Justice Department headquarters this spring, when John Wood, the chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, was tapped to replace him as U.S. Attorney.
Schlozman's allies say that disputes between the career staff in the Civil Rights Division are nothing new, and that the career attorneys -- particularly in the voting section -- have traditionally advanced left-wing views of civil rights laws.
"It is typical in Republican administrations [that] the political appointees generally have a very different approach to the laws than the career attorneys in that office," says Noel Francisco, a partner at Jones Day who worked in the White House Counsel's office earlier in the administration. "The attorneys in that office have a reputation for advancing a liberal interpretation of the laws."
Schlozman did not return calls for this story. In a written statement to Legal Times, a Justice Department spokesman said the ongoing internal probe precludes commenting on the specific allegations about Schlozman's hiring practices. "The Civil Rights Division seeks to hire outstanding attorneys with demonstrated legal skills and abilities regardless of their political or ideological backgrounds," the statement said.
Additionally, the department stands by its actions in the Georgia and Texas voter cases. The department "expects and encourages thoughtful recommendations from career staff and seeks to ensure full opportunity for responsible, productive discussion in connection with these matters," said the statement.
On Tuesday, Schlozman will face down a pack of swarming Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee including Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the veteran legislator who was a driving force behind the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the legislation which granted the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division much of its authority in voting cases.
Kennedy's chief counsel on the Judiciary Committee is William Yeomans, who spent 24 years in the Civil Rights Division -- including a brief stint as acting assistant attorney general during the Bush transition. Before joining Kennedy's staff last summer, Yeomans had been one of the most vocal critics of the leadership of the Civil Rights Division.
For Yeomans and others, Schlozman's testimony will be something of a denouement for concerns about politicization at the Justice Department that had been expressed long before the current scandal began.
"I think it's important to bring a lot of this to light, because it's something that's permeated the voting section," says Heather Moss, who worked as an analyst in the Civil Rights Division's voting section from 2002 until last year. "I do believe people like Brad were central in that."