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Changes in the Civil Rights Division

Dan Abrams takes a look at the resignation of John Tanner, head of the Civil Rights Divison of the Justice Department, and how people may finally be listening to the changes needed to be made.

Just three days after our series Bush League Justice exposed the dismal record of this Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in particular the voting rights section, now we learn that the head of that division, John Tanner, is “resigning” effective immediately. For weeks, civil rights advocates had been calling for his ouster. We’re glad to see that somebody is finally listening, but this is just the first step. 

As we discussed, from 2001 to 2006, not one voting discrimination case was brought on behalf of African-American voters. New hires to the division were evaluated on their loyalty to far-right conservative principles and encouraged to fight cases of religious, rather than racial, discrimination. Tanner and his team twisted the voting section’s goals by focusing on alleged voter fraud cases that target minorities rather than protecting them. He even once made the absurd comment that a Georgia law, pushed forward by Republicans, which required voters to have photo IDs would affect whites more because “minorities don’t become elderly the way white people do: They die first.”

Tanner is now celebrating his accomplishments in an e-mail to his staff. We are not going to allow this effort to distort his record to go unchallenged as they send him to another, far less high-profile Justice Department job. There were also questions swirling about Tanner’s travel on the taxpayer dime. So why is he landing another job in the department?

On Monday we will extend our Bush League Justice series to address a number of important issues relating to Tanner and the department. We want to ensure that the new attorney general selects a replacement ready to fight for the very people that the voting section, and the Civil Rights Division in general, was designed to protect. This is an opportunity for Attorney General Michael Mukasey to demonstrate that he is serious about civil rights and prepared to start eliminating the stink of partisanship that has permeated this once-apolitical department.

As we completed our Bush League Justice series this week, we promised that we would be watching. We are, and we will, and so Bush League Justice is back on Monday. See you then.