The nomination process for attorneys had two stages. First, individual offices in DOJ reviewed applications and selected certain ones for interviews. Then, a Screening Committee selected by the deputy attorney general reviewed the selections and made nominations for final interviews. This was a change made in 2002 when the “involvement of political appointees at the Department in the hiring process was greatly expanded.”
The OIG broke down nominees into those that they classified as “Liberal,” “Conservative” and “Neutral.”* They then evaluated the deselection (removal from the hiring process) rate of those nominees between 2002 and 2007. They found a strikingly high percentage of identifiable liberals who were culled from the process compared to identifiable conservatives.
For example, in 2002, of the 100 “liberals” nominated, 80% were “deselected” by the Screening Committee. Of the 46 “conservatives” nominated, only 9% were deselected.
Chart 3 of the report (pdf) details the discrepancy:
Perhaps even more disturbing, of the 71 candidates who were deemed “Highly Qualified” (attended a top 20 ranked law school, were in the top 20% of their class and had previously held judicial clerkships and were members of the law review), 37% were deselected.
And the kicker?
15 out of the 17 highly qualified candidates who were categorized as “Liberal” were deselected. Zero of the five highly qualified “Conservative” candidates were deselected.
But it gets better and better!
Overall, of the applicants nominated, 70% of those who identified as Democrats were de-selected, 32% who identified as Neutral were deselected, and just 11% who identified as Republicans were deselected.
The Screening Committee was an amorphous group, and as the OIG describes, DOJ offices that sent their recommendations to the Screening Committee, often did not know how the Committee members were selected, who sat on it, or the Committee’s criteria in selecting or deselecting candidates.
So who was on the elusive committee?
In 2002, the OIG determined that “Andrew Hruska, then Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General, and David Higbee, then Deputy Associate Attorney General, participated in the screening process, and that Howard Nielson, then Counselor to the Attorney General, and Adam Ciongoli, then Counselor to the Attorney General, may also have participated in the screening process.”
[Late Update: Chief of Staff for the Deputy Attorney General, Michael Elston was named in the report as being in violation of federal laws for weighing “political and ideological” leanings in the hiring process. Elston and Esther McDonald, a former DOJ lawyer, were both found in violation of DOJ policy.]
* From a footnote in the OIG’s report on political designations assigned to candidates:
“We recognize that these determinations are not precise and that categorizing organizations as liberal or conservative can be somewhat subjective. The appendix contains a listing of those organizations we categorized as liberal or conservative in our analysis of the candidates’ affiliations. For example, we categorized as “liberal” organizations promoting causes such as choice in abortion issues, gay rights, defense of immigrants, separation of church and state, and privacy rights. Examples of organizations we considered liberal include Earthjustice, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, Lambda Law Association, and Ayuda. We categorized as “conservative” groups promoting causes such as defense of religious liberty, traditional family values, free enterprise, limited government, and right to life issues. Examples of groups we considered conservative include the Federalist Society, the Alliance Defense Fund, the Christian Legal Society, and the Family Research Council. In reviewing candidates’ applications, we considered a candidate’s affiliations to be “neutral” if the organizations listed did not have an apparent liberal or conservative viewpoint, or if the candidate listed affiliations with both liberal and conservative organizations.”
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