NY Times Editorial
Fixing the Game
The rules of American democracy say every president may install his own team of like-minded people in the government - even at a place like the Justice Department, which is at its root a law-enforcement agency and not a campaign branch office. But the Bush administration seems to be losing sight of the fact that the rules also say the majority party of the moment may not use its powers to strip citizens of their rights, politicize the judicial system or rig the election process to keep itself in office.
There are sections of the Justice Department that are supposed to be dedicated to enforcing the laws that protect the rights of all Americans, not just Republican officeholders and the people who give them money. The Civil Rights Division, for example, has enforced anti-discrimination laws, including the sacred Voting Rights Act, since the 1960's, under more Republican presidents than Democratic presidents.
But The Washington Post's Dan Eggen reported last week that the Justice Department has been suppressing for nearly two years a 73-page memo in which six lawyers and two analysts in the voting rights section, including the group's chief lawyer, unanimously concluded that the Texas redistricting plan of 2003 illegally diluted the votes of blacks and Hispanics in order to ensure a Republican majority in the state's Congressional delegation. That plan was shoved through the Texas State Legislature by Representative Tom DeLay, who abused his federal position in doing so and is now facing criminal charges over how money was raised to support the redistricting.
The Post said the lawyers charged with analyzing voting rights violations were overruled by political appointees, and ordered not to discuss the case. The Justice Department then approved the Texas plan, which had been under review because the voting law requires states with a history of discriminatory election practices to get electoral map changes approved in advance.
This outrageous case is only one way in which the Justice Department under John Ashcroft and now Alberto Gonzales has abused its law-enforcement mandate in the service of the Republican majority. Last month, the Post reported that political appointees also overruled voting rights lawyers who rejected a Georgia law requiring that voters without a picture ID buy one for $20 - at offices that were set up in only 59 of the state's 159 counties. The Justice Department falsely claimed that the decision to O.K. the law - which was little more than a modern-day version of a poll tax aimed at reducing turnout among poor minorities - was made with the concurrence of the career lawyers. A federal court later struck down the law, properly.
And this was well after the appointment of Mr. Gonzales, who promised to make civil rights enforcement one of his priorities when he moved to Justice from the White House.
President Bush's attorneys general have systematically gutted the civil rights division, driving out the career lawyers and shifting the division's focus from civil rights enforcement to deportations, other immigration matters and human smuggling. The Post said the administration has filed only three lawsuits regarding discrimination in voting. All came this year, and the first accused a majority-black district in Mississippi of discriminating against white voters.
The administration's abuse of its narrow electoral majority extends to other areas. Mr. DeLay's requirement that lobbying firms contribute only to Republicans and hire his loyalists comes to mind.
Mr. Bush and his team don't understand that they merely hold the current majority in a system designed to bring periodic changes in the governing party and to protect the rights and values of the minority party. The idea that the winners should trash the system to make sure the democratic process ended with them was discredited back around the time of the Bolsheviks.