Partisan 'mistrust' fueled voting rights fights at Justice Dept.

The Justice Department's inspector general found numerous examples of harassment in the department's voting rights division, but determined it did not prioritize cases in a partisan manner under either Presidents Obama or George W. Bush.  

ADVERTISEMENT
The lengthy inspector general report released Tuesday found that the often ideologically divisive nature of the voting rights section’s work — including reviews of redistricting cases, voter ID laws and voter registration issues — resulted in instances of harassment within the DOJ. 

“Our investigation revealed several incidents in which deep ideological polarization fueled disputes and mistrust that harmed the functioning of the voting section,” states the IG report. “We found that people on different sides of internal disputes about particular cases in the voting section have been quick to suspect those on the other side of partisan motivations, heightening the sense of polarization in the section.”

Inspector General Michael Horowitz initiated the investigation at lawmakers’ request, and out of a concern for political favoritism within the department. Investigators interviewed more than 80 people and reviewed more than 100,000 pages of DOJ documents. 

One of the most high-profile issues was the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) voter intimidation case, which was brought by the DOJ under the Bush administration but was later dismissed by Attorney General Eric Holder under Obama.

Republicans have repeatedly questioned Holder’s decision not to pursue charges against the New Black Panther members, who were accused of intimidating voters approaching a Philadelphia polling station in 2008.

But the IG report found that the DOJ acted appropriately under both administrations.

“In the highly controversial NBPP matter, we found that the decisions that were reached by both administrations were ultimately supportable on non-racial and non-partisan grounds,” states the IG report.

The report did determine, however, that internal polarization was common within the Department of Justice during certain time periods, resulting largely from the change in prosecutorial priorities from the Bush administration to Obama’s tenure in the White House.

In one particular 2007 incident, under Bush, three male attorneys “who were perceived to be conservatives” made harassing comments to a female non-attorney employee “who was perceived to be a liberal,” according to the report.

“Contemporaneous documents indicate that the attorneys made highly offensive and inappropriate sexual comments about the employee, including her sexual orientation, and remarks about how she was 'pro-black' in her work,” the report states.

The IG report said that while most of the people found to have violated the DOJ’s policies have already left the department, some of those have remained and have been referred for administrative review.