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March 13, 2013

Inspector General Finds 'Harassment and Marginalization' in Justice Dept.'s Voting Rights Unit

WASHINGTON — A report released Tuesday by the Justice Department's inspector general found the department's voting rights section mired in deep ideological polarization and distrust, in some cases harming its ability to function over the past two administrations.

The 258-page review by Inspector General Michael Horowitz found "numerous and troubling examples of harassment and marginalization of employees and managers." The unprofessional behavior included racist and other inappropriate e-mails, Internet postings, blogs, and personal attacks by voting rights lawyers and staffers.

The report found no evidence that enforcement decisions were made in the George W. Bush administration or the Obama administration based on race or partisan considerations. Among its responsibilities, the voting section reviews redistricting cases that can change the composition of congressional districts and voter ID laws that affect who is eligible to cast a ballot.

The findings could present problems for Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights,who is likely to be President Barack Obama's nominee for labor secretary. The Civil Rights Division oversees the voting section.

Several e-mails and Internet postings described in the report illustrated the contentious atmosphere in the voting section. In one, an employee characterized the neighborhood of a conservative career lawyer as a place where "everyone wears a white sheet, the darkies say 'yes'm' and equal rights for all are the real 'land of make believe.' " Another post by a career employee said that "a good, ethical Republican" is a "seeming oxymoron." One posting used the expression "po' Niggrahs" to describe a manager's attitude toward African Americans.

In a letter to the inspector general, Perez said he has tried to improve the professionalism of a section that, when he inherited it in the fall of 2009, had "low morale" and an "unacceptable degree of staff conflict." The report said the racist postings were made before Perez arrived.

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