Orin linked the article, but he failed to highlight the truly scandalous nature of the hiring process, as reported by our diligent scribes:
According to a former deputy chief in the civil rights division, one honors hire was a University of Mississippi law school graduate who had been a clerk for U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. about the time the judge's nomination by President Bush to a federal appeals court provoked opposition by congressional Democrats, who contended that Pickering was hostile to civil rights.
A few months after he arrived, that lawyer was given a cash award by the department, after he was the only member of a four-person team in the civil rights division who sided with a Georgia voter-identification law that was later struck down by the courts as discriminatory to minorities, according to two former Justice lawyers.
Another honors hire, a graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Law who had been president of the campus chapter of the Federalist Society, displayed a bust of President James Madison in his Justice office, according to a former honors program lawyer who was hired during the Clinton administration. A profile of Madison's face is the logo of the society, which is based on conservative precepts.
Oh my goodness--a bust of James Madison in his very office! Gracious, a civil rights lawyer who clerked for Charles Pickering--who "congressional Democrats ... contended" was hostile to civil rights (apparently since some congressional Democrats "contended it," all of his clerks are disqualified from working in the office).
The other example cited in the article seems odd as well--why is it supposed to be a problem that a graduate of Regent Law School might be interested in working on "some religious liberties" cases. Would we be similarly shocked if a minority graduate of Southern Law School, for example, expressed a particular interest in working on Voting Rights cases, or a former intern at a pro-choice organization was interested in reproductive rights cases?
The unintentional irony of this is that these examples are provided as examples of the "nonideological" bona fides of the career lawyers who offered them as examples. The career lawyer who is cited (as well as the authors of the article) seems confident that any right-minded person would shocked and outraged that a lawyer was a member of the Federalist Society and had a bust of James Madison in his office or that one of Judge Pickering's clerks worked in the civil rights division.
This is not to say one way or the other whether the new policy is a good one. Or that there may be real examples that actually prove the reporters' point. Or that there were improper ideological pressures in this case that were fundamentally different from Democratic administrations, or that political favoritism is somehow different or more pernicious than all of the other sorts of preferences and favoritism that also play into hiring processes. I don't know the answer to these questions, but it seems obvious that merit alone has never the sole criterion for securing these positions, and that a variety of other personal, geographic, and demographic factors have always played into these decisions.
But if these are the "smoking gun" examples that are the best ones that career attorneys can offer as conservative ideology run amuck at the DOJ, then it seems to me that this says more about the real biases of the supposedly "nonpolitical" attitudes of DOJs career attorneys and the ideological parochialism of the Washington Post than about some sort of hiring "scandal" at DOJ. If these are the sorts of trivialities that career DOJ attorneys consider to be evidence of an extreme ideological shift to the right at the DOJ, then forgive me for being skeptical that the end result of giving career lawyers a monopoly on hiring for these positions is going to eliminate ideology from the hiring process.
Moreover, it is naive to think that putting these career lawyers in charge of hiring will remove ideology from the hiring process (not to mention the thinly-veiled elite snobbery in the otherwise-irrelevant references to University of Mississippi and University of Kentucky Law Schools in the article). It seems evident that a Federalist Society member or Pickering clerk would have those credentials held against him or her by at least this particular career lawyer. If so, is that different from the concern expressed by congressional investigators that senior political appointees appeared to reject applicants who "had interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for a 'liberal' cause, or otherwise appeared to have 'liberal' leanings?"