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Justice Department watchdog raps voting division over ideological tensions

The Justice Department's watchdog has concluded that deep ideological polarization in the department's voting rights section in both the Bush and Obama administrations fueled disputes that in some instances harmed the office's proper functioning. The department's inspector general said that on some occasions the disputes involved harassment of employees and managers. 

Despite the polarization, the IG said its review did not substantiate claims of political or racial bias in decision-making. 

The voting section reviews cases where the redrawing of district lines can change the composition of congressional delegations. It also reviews voter ID laws that can make it easier or more difficult to cast ballots in elections. 

"We found that people on different sides of internal disputes about particular cases in the voting section have been quick to suspect those on the other side of partisan motivations, heightening the sense of polarization," said the IG's report. "The cycles of actions and reactions that we found resulted from this mistrust, were, in many instances, incompatible with the proper functioning of a component of the department." 

The IG's report released Tuesday stemmed from the handling of a 2008 case in which the Justice Department sued two members of the New Black Panther Party, the NBPB's national chairman and the group itself. After the change in administrations, the Justice Department asked the court to dismiss the suit against three of the four defendants. 

"The decision to dismiss three of the four defendants and to seek more narrowly tailored injunctive relief against the fourth was based on a good faith assessment of the law and facts of the case and had a reasonable basis," concluded the report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz.