Department of Justice?

By Frank H. Wu

I was wrong. For years, I have counseled law students that their resumes should be accurate and that it was unlikely their disclosures of their political viewpoints would affect their career prospects. Now, hearings on Capitol Hill have provided proof of what many had suspected. Under the Bush administration, the Department of Justice violated federal law by playing politics with entry-level hiring in its prestigious “Honors Program.”

If you were about to graduate from law school and had been a member of the conservative Federalist Society, which boasts a terrific network of judges, high-ranking government officials, lawyers, and law professors, your prospects were terrific; if you were a member of the liberal American Constitution Society, however, your prospects were basically nil. Whatever arguments they may make about merit in other contexts, top decision-makers entrusted with law enforcement in our nation at this time apparently value ideology above qualifications.

 Of course, everyone understands that the executive branch must have the ability to implement its vision. That is why the President is entitled to scores of political appointments, which he may distribute as patronage – though the current occupant of the White House has made remarkable poor choices in that regard and has even been willing to fire members of his own party (serving as US Attorneys) without reason. In any event, the civil service is supposed to be different. It is insulated from these vagaries. Even within the senior executive service, the highest level of career government employees, it has been common for Republicans to work for Democrats, and vice versa. That is as it should be.

 I am sorry to learn I was more naïve than my students about all this. The dilemma will be undoing the damage, in a principled manner that does not continue this regrettable cycle.

Frank H. Wu is the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White; he was Dean of Wayne State University Law School and Professor at Howard University Law School.

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