Another Swing And A Miss For Right-Wing Critics Of Obama's Department Of Justice

Blog ››› ››› ADAM SHAH

In a National Review article, Hans von Spakovsky and Travis LaCouter attacked the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division for pursuing a case against an Arkansas center for people with mental disabilities. But the case was actually brought by the Bush administration. This is the latest failed attempt by a cadre of far right-wing critics to show that the Department of Justice under President Obama is up to no good.

In his zeal to paint the Obama administration and its Justice Department as extreme, von Spakovsky has previously misrepresented facts, baselessly charged a judge with racism, ignored evidence that totally undermined his claims, and gone on witch hunts against people who worked on behalf of the poor.

But von Spakovsky may have now managed to sink to a new level of incompetence. In his latest attack, von Spakovsky and his co-author LaCouter criticized the Civil Rights Division for pursuing and largely losing a lawsuit against the Conway Human Development Center, a state-owned facility housing individuals with developmental disabilities. The Justice Department alleged that Conway was violating the civil rights of its residents.

Von Spakovsky and LaCouter claimed that the case shows that "the ideologues in the Civil Rights Division of the Holder Justice Department are proving themselves to be ... blindly partisan" and "ideological zealot[s]."

Only one fact is necessary to debunk von Spakovsky's and LaCouter's claim that the case shows that the "Holder Justice Department" is "blindly partisan": The case was actually investigated and filed by President Bush's Justice Department. According to a brief filed by the Justice Department, the Civil Rights Division began investigating Conway in 2002. In April 2004, the head of the Civil Rights Division signed a letter finding that Conway was subjecting its residents "to a pattern or practice of egregious or flagrant conditions in violation of the Constitution or federal law." The letter proposed trying to find an amicable resolution to the case, but when that proved impossible, the Bush administration filed the lawsuit in question.

The complaint commencing the lawsuit was personally signed by Bush-appointed Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Von Spakovsky and LaCouter hid this fact by saying the case was filed in "early 2009." In fact, the case was filed on January 16, 2009, four days before Obama's inauguration and more than two weeks before current Attorney General Eric Holder was confirmed by the Senate.

The article also includes an ad hominem attack on Justice Department attorney Jonathan Smith because Smith represented poor people and prisoners before coming to the Justice Department (a favorite, if bizarre tactic for von Spakovsky and his allies).

The article also makes the claim that, in bringing the case, the Justice Department was carrying a "liberal policy" of "closing down mental-health facilities in favor of so-called 'community care' at home or in other non-institutional settings."

Actually, by trying to ensure that people with mental disabilities receive treatment in community settings when possible, the Justice Department -- under both Bush and Obama -- was enforcing the law. In Olmstead v. L.C., the Supreme Court made the following ruling about the Americans with Disabilities Act:

This case concerns the proper construction of the anti-discrimination provision contained in the public services portion (Title II) of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 104 Stat. 337, 42 U.S.C. § 12132. Specifically, we confront the question whether the proscription of discrimination may require placement of persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions. The answer, we hold, is a qualified yes. Such action is in order when the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities.

So von Spakovsky and LaCouter not only called the Obama Justice Department "blindly partisan" for prosecuting a case that was originally brought by the Bush Justice Department, their article appears to be advocating that the Justice Department ignore what the law says in favor of conservative views on what the law should say.

Such attacks shouldn't be surprising coming from von Spakovsky, who had a very controversial tenure as a Justice Department lawyer and has been called "one of the most meddlesome" of the "political operatives" packed into the Bush Justice Department. But they do show how little credibility von Spakovsky and his allies have.

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