The chairman of a House subcommittee that funds the Justice Department wants Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to call for an independent review of the department's Civil Rights Division in the wake of a government report that documented widespread abuses within the division.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican who chairs the House Appropriations commerce, justice and science subcommittee, said an outside review is necessary to "correct the systemic dysfunction that exists within the division" and eliminate the "politicization and inappropriate activities" documented in a March 14 report by the Justice Department's office of inspector general.
"I was deeply troubled, but hardly surprised, to learn ... that very serious abuses and politicization are prevalent in the department's Civil Rights Division," he said. "The report makes clear that the division has become a rat's nest of unacceptable and unprofessional actions, and even outright threats against career attorneys and systemic mismanagement.
"Above all, I believe Attorney General Holder has failed in his leadership of this Justice Department. As the head of the department, he alone bears ultimate responsibility for the serious abuses that occurred on his watch over the last four years," he said, adding that the attorney general has "failed the American people, and he must be held responsible for the prevailing dysfunction that has occurred under his leadership."
Mr. Wolf first requested the IG investigation after the dismissal in January 2009 of a civil complaint brought in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania by the Voting Rights Section accusing the New Black Panther Party of intimidating voters with racial insults, slurs and a nightstick at a Philadelphia polling place during the November 2008 general election.
The complaint had been prepared during the administration of President George W. Bush but was withdrawn after President Obama assumed office.
Mr. Wolf suggested that Mr. Holder name former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey or "someone of his stature" to conduct the review.
Mr. Comey has since become a senior research scholar and Hertog Fellow on National Security Law at Columbia University Law School.
Mr. Holder is scheduled to appear before Mr. Wolf's subcommittee for a hearing in April.
The IG's report documented what it described as deep ideological divisions within the Voting Rights Section, which fueled disputes harmful to its operation and often evolved into the harassment of its employees and managers.The 258-page report outlined concerns by section employees that attorneys could not pursue cases against black defendants for the benefit of white victims.
The report said polarization within the Voting Rights Section had been exacerbated by the question of whether voting rights laws enacted in response to discrimination against blacks and other minorities also should be used to challenge allegedly improper voting practices harming white voters.
"We also found that some career employees in the voting section contributed significantly to the atmosphere of polarization and distrust by harassing other career employees due at least in part to their political ideology or for positions taken on particular cases," said the report, noting that the behavior included outward hostility, snide and mocking emails, and accessing the attorneys electronic documents on the Voting Section shared drive without permission.
The report also confirmed that Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, who has since been nominated by Mr. Obama to be the secretary of labor, agreed that department policy was not to pursue voting rights cases in which the victim was white.
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