Joseph Rich, the chief of the voting section until he resigned in 2005, signed the complaint against Brown and told me that he thought that the case did have merit. But he said that it was "really a question of priority" for a section with limited resources. The political appointees in the section aggressively promoted the case, he said: "clearly they were very interested in this particular matter when it came up." Rich, who worked for the department enforcing civil rights laws for more than 35 years, has very publicly criticized the section he left.*
Democrats are clearly animated about the issue. A House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on the voting section, during which Rich testified, last month, and chairman Jerold Nadler (D-NY) has vowed to press on with further investigation, saying "I realize the president has gotten a free ride for the last six years, but that is over."
Consider some numbers. The single case filed on behalf of African American voters in the first five years of the Bush administration was actually a case that had been initiated during the Clinton administration; the complaint was finally filed in 2001. The section did not file its second complaint on behalf of African American voters until July, 2006. And that only happened after The Washington Post went front page earlier that year with the turmoil in the voting section. By comparison, the voting section filed eight cases alleging discrimination against African American voters in the last six years of the Clinton administration.
The voting section has filed ten total cases so far during the Bush administration; seven were on behalf of Hispanics.
"The Civil Rights Division's core mission is to fight racial discrimination," Rich told me. "That doesn't seem to be happening in this administration."
A similar shift has occurred in the division's employment litigation section, which is tasked with preventing discrimination in employment. That section has managed to file two "reverse" discrimination cases alleging discrimination against whites under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, while filing only one alleging discrimination against African Americans in the past six years.
The shift in priorities is no accident. As the Post and others have reported, career staff like Rich have left the division in droves after being marginalized by political appointees, a house cleaning far more comprehensive than the recent firings of eight U.S. attorneys.
*Update: Joe Rich wanted to make a clarification here: "my criticism has been of those political appointees who supervised the Voting Section, not the Section itself."