Kerry Eleveld asks of DOJ: ‘What exactly is the department’s Civil Rights Division doing?’

Kerry Eleveld’s weekly column took a look at the DADT brief filed by the Department of Justice last week. Something isn’t right at the Department of Justice. And, that means something is awry in the Obama administration:

Even though the Civil Division of DOJ is responsible for defending legal challenges to the U.S. Constitution, it does raise the question, What exactly is the department’s Civil Rights Division doing? Did Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division, have the opportunity to weigh in with the head of the Civil Division, Tony West, who was lead attorney listed on both the DOMA and Log Cabin brief?

During a DOJ briefing last December, I asked Perez whether he interfaces with West on civil rights cases important to LGBT people, such as DOMA and DADT.

“The meeting I had just before this was with Tony West,” he said. “We have regular coordination meetings with the Civil Division to ensure that we are frequently discussing matters of mutual interest between the Civil Division and the Civil Rights Division. So the Civil Division plays the lead role in the defense of those cases, but we certainly have conversations with them.”

Perez added that the Civil Division had been “excellent at being inclusive in terms of ensuring that everybody’s viewpoint” is heard within the department. I wonder if his answer would be the same this week.

One thing is clear: Obama’s Justice Department is still vigorously defending a law that he, Defense secretary Gates, and Joint Chiefs chair Adm. Mullen have all said must go, while the White House doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to overturn it based on remarks from Robert Gibbs this week.

As Richard Socarides, former LGBT adviser to President Bill Clinton, noted, “I think it’s an outrage that they’ve got the best and brightest lawyers in Washington working overtime to defend the law when nobody at the White House has an actual legislative plan to repeal it this year.”

Socarides is exactly right.

The DOJ also has an LGBT liaison, Matt Nosanchuk. He was hired last August in the wake of the DOMA debacle. As far as I know, besides the White House, it’s the only department with an LGBT liaison. So, this episode also begs the question of what the LGBT liaison at DOJ does. Either Nosanchuk didn’t know about the latest DADT brief and didn’t try to intercede, which would be bad enough. But, if the LGBT liaison, who was hired after the DOMA brief controversy, raised concerns and was ignored, that seems even worse.

Last summer, the Obama administration and the DOJ created a major rift with the LGBT community with that first infamous DOMA brief. I know that furor reached the highest levels inside the White House — the very highest levels. It’s hard to understand why DOJ would file another incendiary brief without vetting it for the same kinds of political problems. This brief came after the President said he wanted DADT repealed “this year” in the State of the Union. And, don’t believe anyone who says that legal briefs aren’t vetted by the political appointees when “controversial” issues are implicated. They are.

Something just isn’t right here. Time is running out on the President’s promise to end DADT “this year.” The question is whether anyone in the White House is committed to turning that promise into reality. Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina is the point person on DADT repeal at the White House. He’s either got a strategy or he doesn’t. We’ll know for sure pretty soon. Time is running out.

On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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