A new report by the Government Accountability Office may confirm a longstanding liberal belief that, under President Bush, civil rights suffered. Certain career lawyers have long murmured that the Bush Justice Department's Civil Rights division was being overtly politicized. On the left, some have even argued that a kind of "purge" had taken place in which lawyers seen as too liberal--or too interested in prosecuting civil rights violations--were pushed out of the department. Until now, most of the complaints have been unsubstantiated, but this report finds that the enforcement of pivotal civil rights laws like the Voting Rights Act fell markedly during the Bush years. How will this controversy play out? As Congress prepares to hold oversight hearings on Bush's Civil Rights Division, and Republicans in turn protest politicization in the current administration, here are commentators' first reactions:

  • Evidence  Charlie Savage of The New York Times reports:

    When compared with the Clinton administration, its findings show a significant drop in the enforcement of several major antidiscrimination and voting rights laws. For example, lawsuits brought by the division to enforce laws prohibiting race or sex discrimination in employment fell from about 11 per year under President Bill Clinton to about 6 per year under President George W. Bush.

    The study also found a sharp decline in enforcement of a section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits electoral rules with discriminatory effects, from more than four cases a year under Mr. Clinton to fewer than two cases a year under Mr. Bush.

  • The Republican Assault on Civil Rights  At The American Prospect, liberal Adam Serwer says the report simply proves what was already known:
Republicans, who are living in a world in which they believe the history of voting-rights discrimination begins and ends with the overwrought case involving the New Black Panther Party last year, (a case I've written about previously) will attempt to draw an equivalence between the Bush Civil Rights Division, which was riddled with ethics scandals and which political appointees attempted to turn into a partisan operation, and the current administration, which is back doing what the Civil Rights Division was meant to do.
  • Shameful  The left-leaning Washington Monthly's Steve Benen says "what the Bushies did to the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department was a tragedy."