(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) While liberals continue to push the narrative that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is too conservative for his position, a behind-the-scenes argument is brewing on the right about whether the rest of Sessions’s Justice Department will be conservative enough.
The biggest disagreement among conservative legal eagles involves Sessions’s pending choice to lead the department’s most controversial sub-department, the Civil Rights Division. The widely reported front-runner for the spot, California Republican leader Harmeet Dhillon, counts conservative superstars Laura Ingraham and (reportedly) Dinesh D’Souza among her staunchest supporters. However, plenty of other conservative stalwarts argue that Dillon is too liberal for the appointment.
Dillon was an ally of Ingraham and D’Souza three decades ago when they all worked on the conservative Dartmouth Review and pilloried the liberal college administration. She also has been active in the Federalist Society, the national organization of conservative and libertarian lawyers, and she helped lead the Trump campaign’s effort to massage the rules in his favor at last year’s Republican National Convention.
On the other hand, since her college and law school days. Dhillon has served as a board member of the San Francisco chapter of the liberal American Civil Liberties Union, and has spoken in favor of liberal pro-abortion laws and in favor of recognizing more American legal rights for enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay. She also donated to the campaign of California’s left-wing U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, when Harris ran for her earlier position of San Francisco District Attorney.
“The Civil Rights Division must be headed by a staunch conservative,” Mirengoff wrote in the first one. “It simply won’t do for a former ACLU board member and Kamala Harris supporter with an obvious liberal streak to head the Division.”
In answer to that first column and other criticisms, Dhillon’s fellow Republican National Committee member from California, Shawn Steel, circulated a letter defending her conservative bona fides and belittling many of her critics as “holdovers from the Bush era” and characterizing the criticism of her as “smears.” Noting that Dhillon is a Sikh, he wrote that “in the California central valley, Sikhs are among our greatest allies. They are quite conservative and fiercely proud Americans.”
None of which, retorted Mirengoff, excuses the record indicating that “ideologically, she has played for both teams.”
Separately – and without mentioning Dhillon directly – some top conservative lawyers are circulating their own letter addressed to Sessions that stresses the importance of choosing a constitutional conservative to head the Civil Rights Division. It lists the division’s lengthy recent record of court citations for unethical behavior, accuses the division in recent years of “ideological rot,” and calls for a number of “strategic shifts” and “internal reforms.” The draft version of the letter (which hasn’t been sent to Sessions yet) urges support for voter-identification requirements and other means of ensuring the integrity of the voting process, while calling for race-neutral enforcement of civil rights laws.
The latter issue refers to one of the biggest controversies in the early years of the Obama administration; one originally brought to the fore by the Obama Justice Department’s decision to drop charges in what effectively was an already-won case against two New Black Panthers accused of intimidating voters outside a Philadelphia polling place. In the wake of that case, Justice Department employees reported that the Obama team had openly stated it would not apply civil rights laws in defense of white people victimized by black perpetrators, and would not enforce voter-integrity provisions in federal law because such laws don’t advance their goal of “increasing turnout.”
Those are just a few examples of the numerous times that the Justice Department and its Civil Rights Division came under fire in each of the past two presidencies – the Obama team criticized from the political right; the George W. Bush team blasted by the left.
For those reasons and others, Mirengoff’s Powerline colleague John Hinderaker weighed in over the weekend with his own column entitled “Memo to Jeff Sessions: It’s time to clean house.”
Hinderaker’s conclusion explains the sentiments so widely held on the right that both sides of the divide over Harmeet Dhillon almost certainly agree:
No swamp is more in need of draining than the Department of Justice, horribly corrupted by eight years of misrule. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has his work cut out for him. Bureaucrats and lawyers at DOJ will fight him every step of the way as he tries to reform the department.
The press will fight him, too–especially when it comes to efforts to restore professionalism to the Civil Rights Division. That division is now a cesspool of bias and incompetence, but reporters will imply that every effort Sessions makes to reform it is “racist.”
Sessions faces a daunting task, but he is the right man for the job. Conservatives need to be prepared to support him, aggressively, as he begins to clean the Augean stables of the Department of Justice.
Feelings obviously run high on these issues. The Wall Street Journal last year accused the Obama Administration of running “The Miscarriage of Justice Department,” and conservatives of all stripes don’t want Jeff Sessions’s tenure to be stillborn.