Federal appeals court revives Bush-era political hiring case

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Friday revived [opinion, PDF] a 2008 lawsuit [JURIST report] against the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] alleging discriminatory hiring practices based on political affiliation. Former DOJ intern Sean Gerlich alleges that he was denied a position in the department's Honors Program [DOJ materials] in 2006 because of his earlier work with a human rights group and a democratic campaign. The US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] denied Gerlich's motion for class certification and dismissed [opinion, PDF] some of his claims, granting summary judgment [opinion, PDF] in favor of the DOJ on the remaining claims. The appeals court held that summary judgment was inappropriately granted on Gerlich's Privacy Act [text] claims, stating:

In light of the destruction of appellants' records ... a permissive spoliation inference was warranted because the senior Department officials had a duty to preserve the annotated applications and internet printouts given that Department investigation and future litigation were reasonably foreseeable. On remand, the district court shall construe the evidence in light of this negative spoliation inference, which would permit a reasonable trier of fact to find that two of the appellants were harmed by creation and use of the destroyed records.
Although the lawsuit has been revived, the court declined to reverse [AP report] the district court's refusal to make the case a class action on behalf of all applicants who might have been denied interviews because of liberal political affiliations.

The Bush administration's DOJ faced severe criticism for its hiring and firing processes. Gerlich's suit stemmed from a 2008 report [PDF text; JURIST report] released by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General [official website] which found that the DOJ had improperly granted preferential treatment to conservative candidates in assessing job and summer internship applications under 2002 and 2006 screening programs. The report found that political officials played a significant role in the department's hiring processes, supporting accusations that the Bush administration has politicized the supposedly nonpartisan department. Former attorney general Alberto Gonzales resigned [JURIST report] in 2007 amid related allegations concerning the alleged firing of US Attorneys for political reasons [JURIST news archive]. Gonzales' successor, Michael Mukasey [professional profile] appointed a special prosecutor [JURIST report] in September 2008 to determine whether criminal charges were warranted in connection with the firings. The move was recommended in a report [text, PDF] by investigators at the DOJ. The report was one of several internal assessments of the role politics played in DOJ hiring and firing practices. In July 2008, the Inspector General and Professional Responsibility offices concluded that DOJ officials made illegal hiring decisions [JURIST report] based on applicants' political and ideological beliefs. In November 2009, the House Judiciary Committee [official website] released testimony and e-mails [JURIST report] purporting to show that Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove [personal website] was involved in the firings. Citing executive privilege, Rove refused to testify in July 2008 [JURIST reports].

 

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