Law & Courts Federal File

Kennedy Faults Bush Justice Dept.

By Mark Walsh — October 07, 2008 1 min read

The lion of the U.S. Senate is roaring.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., has published an academic article criticizing the Department of Justice’s civil rights division under President Bush’s administration, including its oversight of school desegregation cases and other education issues.

The senator says in the article, in the current edition of the Harvard Law & Policy Review, that under the current administration, “the vital cooperation between political appointees and career civil servants in the division has broken down, with troubling consequences.”

Sen. Kennedy says the educational opportunities section, which oversees desegregation and other civil rights issues in schools, has been spared political pressures faced by other units within the civil rights division. But the education section, which was once one of the division’s largest, “has been allowed to atrophy” and is now one of the smallest in its number of lawyers, the article says.

“The section has reduced its focus on race discrimination and spent its limited resources bringing cases to enhance freedom of religion” in education,” the senator says.

The article also asserts that the Bush administration has taken the view that school districts’ use of race to integrate voluntarily is unconstitutional, even though that view goes beyond the U.S. Supreme Court’s more nuanced 2007 ruling on that issue, which allowed for the voluntary consideration of race in some circumstances.

“The harms of segregation and benefits of integration are well documented, and there can be no doubt that the nation still needs the division’s active leadership in this area,” Sen. Kennedy writes.

Scot Montrey, a Justice Department spokesman, said in an e-mail that the educational opportunities section has helped lead the fight to desegregate schools and “offer new solutions for achieving equality of opportunity in American education.”

“The Civil Rights Division has a robust record of achievement in protecting the rights of minorities, and has made changes when and where necessary to ensure that our core mission remains unaffected by influences beyond the letter of the law,” Mr. Montrey said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 08, 2008 edition of Education Week

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