DOJ Kept Tanner Working On Voting Rights — Even After Racist Comments

January 14, 2009 6:23 a.m.

Yesterday we picked out a shocking excerpt from the DOJ report on politicized hiring, in which then-Voting Rights chief John Tanner told Brad Schlozman over email in 2004 that he liked his coffee “Mary Frances Berry style — black and bitter.” Berry, an African-American, was at the time the chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights, which works, among other things, to protect Americans’ right to vote.

As we noted, this wasn’t the first known case of Tanner making racially insensitive remarks. He left the voting-rights section soon after sparking a furor by saying that voter ID laws discriminate against the elderly, and therefore not against African-Americans, because African-Americans die younger.

But it turns out that Tanner didn’t stop working on voting issues for DOJ — he just found a new perch from which to do it. After a short stint with the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, he showed up again last April working on election-related issues for the Alabama Law Institute, and still being paid by the Justice Department under a federal program, the Associated Press reported at the time. (Thanks to reader Ally for the catch.)

What exactly has Tanner been working on? Says AP:

At the institute, his work will include writing about getting Justice Department approval of city annexations and new boundaries for political districts, such as legislative districts.

In other words, DOJ’s response to the outrage provoked by Tanner’s racist comments was to … send him to Alabama to help with the racially charged work of redrawing political districts. Great idea!

Is the department still paying Tanner’s salary today? DOJ’s press office didn’t immediately get back to us on that, claiming it didn’t have access to the information right away.

But it looks like the answer is yes. According to that AP story from April:

[Tanner] is participating in the federal government’s program to loan personnel to other government agencies. The Justice Department is paying Tanner’s salary and benefits to be in Alabama through next spring.

We reached Tanner at the Law Institute. When we said we were from TPM, he told us he’d call us back, but hasn’t yet.

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