The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

See my complete profile

Monday, February 06, 2006

Politics, Good Government, and DOJ

Commenting on Mark Posner's recommendations that career staff at the Department of Justice's Voting Rights Section be given greater authority to determine policy vis a vis the president's appointees, the always insightful Bob Bauer notes that political laws and rules have political effects. Bauer suggests that the solution is more, not less, political accountability. This is one with which I agree.

Bauer comments on the Lonely Centrist's post that suggests that the career staff at DOJ does indeed have political leanings, and that they lean left. He suggests "not that the Centrist was right, but that he believes that he is right." He continues, "the beliefs of “professional staff” are not necessarily, by definition, most true to the merits and least corrupted by 'politics.'"

To be clear, I think my point was the same as Bauer's - it is not that staff recommendations were wrong in interpreting the law (maybe they were, maybe they weren't), or that the staff was highly biased in reaching them (maybe they were, maybe they weren't), it is that 1) there should not be a presumption that the staff is somehow pure. My purpose was precisely to set out some of the evidence that would make some people question the alleged impartiality of the career staff - not to suggest that one quick post, based on 20 minutes web research, made a conclusive case. Simply put, if the DOJ career staff is going to claim some special level of non-ideological, non-partisan analysis based simply on being "career staff," it is proper to look at evidence that suggests that there are political leanings in the staff, and to recognize that those leanings may play a role in the way they look at voting rights issues. Note that the career (and ex-career) staffers complaining about all this could avoid the question by basing their argument more on the merits, rather than hiding behind their alleged status as apolitical career staffers.

Though I did not go into the issue, from that point I would agree with Bauer that, "DOJ cannot avoid—and it has not typically escaped—the pull of politically charged questions in either Democratic or Republican Administrations." And from there, Bauer and I seem to share the belief that there should be political consequences for decisions with political results, and political appointees should not be able to hide behind career staff.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life