Bush civil rights nominee under fire

A White House plan to install a DOJ official with a lousy reputation on workers' rights to the powerful EEOC falters as Barack Obama and former DOJ employees protest.

Topics: Department of Justice, Barack Obama,

Bush civil rights nominee under fire

A deal that would see David Palmer, a Bush administration nominee, quietly confirmed to the powerful Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appears to be faltering. Momentum against Palmer’s confirmation has been building since former Department of Justice employees took the unprecedented step of formally accusing him of having an abysmal professional and personal record on workplace discrimination issues.

And Thursday, in a letter to Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sen. Barack Obama joined the chorus of those calling for an investigation into Palmer’s fitness to serve on the EEOC, the agency tasked with protecting employees from discrimination based on race, gender and religion under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Kennedy, chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, on which Obama and Sens. Hillary Clinton and Christopher Dodd also sit, is under pressure to investigate the charges against Palmer rather than accept a deal from the White House that would guarantee the renomination of respected Democratic commissioner Stuart J. Ishimaru to the EEOC in exchange for Palmer’s confirmation.

Although opposition to Palmer has been growing, some civil rights groups have kept conspicuously quiet about Palmer’s record, fearing the loss of Ishimaru, whose term expired earlier this month. The White House has declared its intention to renominate Ishimaru once Palmer is confirmed. In the event that Palmer isn’t confirmed, however, the White House has said it would put Palmer on the commission via a recess appointment.

The EEOC is overseen by a commission made up of five members who serve staggered five-year terms; they set equal employment opportunity policy and direct the agency’s litigation. No more than three commissioners can be from the same political party.

Kennedy is not expected to decide on whether to challenge Palmer’s nomination until Palmer provides the HELP committee with written answers to questions regarding the allegations against him. His responses were scheduled to arrive Friday and are now expected on Monday.

At issue is Palmer’s tenure at the Employee Litigation Section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division — the agency that enforces Title VII in state and local government workplaces. According to a three-page letter opposing Palmer’s nomination signed by Palmer’s former supervisors, colleagues and subordinates at the DOJ, the section has brought significantly fewer discrimination cases under his leadership than the prior administration and has ignored its historical mission.



The letter states that Palmer lacks a “commitment to the fair, yet vigorous, enforcement of anti-discrimination in employment statutes; the expertise to enforce those laws; and the exercise of reasoned and sound judgment.”

The letter alleges that while Palmer worked in the section as a senior trial attorney, before the Bush administration rapidly promoted him to section chief, “he did not understand the basic principles of Title VII and constitutional law.” Palmer was also reprimanded for his work performance at this time. According to a supervisor familiar with the reprimand, Palmer had failed to respond to an opposing counsel’s discovery requests, and sanctions had been threatened.

Most disturbingly, the letter claims that at least one internal complaint of discrimination or other improper activity has been filed against Palmer during his tenure as section chief; Salon has learned that the complaint arose after Palmer allegedly tried to have a woman with whom he had been romantically involved removed from federal service. In testimony Palmer has already given to the HELP committee, he himself indicated the existence of a second complaint, the details of which remain unknown.

According to the former deputy section chief, Richard Ugelow, who worked in the section from 1973 to 2002, prior to Palmer no manager in the history of the agency charged with investigating claims of employment discrimination has ever been charged with engaging in discrimination himself.

The letter also accuses Palmer of the sorts of behaviors that have been widely reported across the Civil Rights Division in the Bush administration: acting with partisan motives, treating subordinates with contempt, and overseeing a mass departure of managers, line attorneys and other professional staff.

Under Palmer, the Employment Litigation Section has filed fewer cases that fulfill its core mission, namely securing the rights of vulnerable protected groups. Conversely, under his tenure the section filed two reverse-discrimination lawsuits and focused on defending the rights of employers to discriminate based on religion.

During this time the Department of Justice also filed an amicus brief in a Supreme Court case that repudiated the EEOC’s position that each paycheck that pays a woman less than a similarly situated man because she is a woman is an act of discrimination that violates Title VII. In a narrow 5-4 ruling, the court sided with the department; in a dissent, Justice Ruth Ginsburg argued that such an interpretation ignores Title VII’s core purposes and ignores workplace reality.

And last year the DOJ filed an amicus brief in a case with the Supreme Court that undermined a well-established EEOC position that bars retaliation against those individuals who have asserted their Title VII rights in reporting discrimination, filing a complaint, participating in an investigation, or testifying at a proceeding. In that ruling, eight Justices ultimately rejected the department’s argument as inconsistent with both the plain language of Title VII and its underlying purposes.

ACLU legislative counsel Christopher Anders points out that although the Senate HELP committee has known about the politicization of the Civil Rights Division, the revelations about Palmer’s involvement in the division’s actions as well as the allegations that he might himself have been involved in discriminatory practices are causing some members to take a closer look at him.

Anders sees some parallels between Palmer and another former EEOC commissioner and chair — Clarence Thomas. In Thomas’ case, however, Anders says it was only long after Thomas left the EEOC that the nation learned of Thomas’ personal misconduct. (The White House has indicated that once Palmer is confirmed to the EEOC, it intends to make him the new chair.)

“The difference now,” says Anders, “is we know, senators know, civil rights groups know all these things at the nomination stage.”

Regarding the alternative of losing Ishimaru if Palmer is not confirmed — and noting that the White House will place Palmer on the commission with a recess appointment anyway — Anders says: “Anyone who receives a recess appointment after a controversy holds that position for a shorter position of time and without the moral authority of a Senate confirmation. So Palmer would serve his term at the EEOC as damaged goods, and Kennedy could use other means to see [Ishimaru] renominated.”

Alia Malek is an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review and a writer in New York City.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>