Politicized hiring for non-political positions at the DOJ has been in the news of late. Monica Goodling has come in for a good deal of official and unofficial criticism, which is appropriate.
But good examples are as useful as examples to avoid, and this episode offers at least one good one. An earlier report, on hiring in the AGs honors program and summer law intern program, recounts that Peter Keisler, who was then the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, objected to such politicization. According to the report, Keisler called Michael Elston, the head of the relevant screening committee:
"Keisler said he told Elston something to the effect of:
`[Y]ou should know that there's a lot of people who believe
that these deselections are either irrational or so irrational
that they are motivated by politics, and that's a problem,
you know. Whatever the truth of it is, when this many
people in a Department are this unhappy about something,
it's going to be an issue.'
Keisler gave as an example an appeal of a deselected candidate
who had good grades at Harvard Law School, had been a successful
summer intern at the Civil Division, and had worked as a paralegal for
Planned Parenthood. Elston denied the appeal. Keisler told Elston that
`some people had said that the only reason she might have been
deselected is that she had on her resume something like Planned
Parenthood or something that would be associated with the abortion
According to Keisler, Elston said something like, `well that’s not
what’s going on. What we’re doing here is rejecting people because of
academic performance being not up to standards.' Following his
conversation with Keisler, however, Elston allowed this candidate to be
Well done. Some might wish for stronger condemnation, but in the bureaucratic context the message recounted here seems to me clear enough.
I don't know Mr. Keisler, who has returned to private practice now. Before doing so, he was nominated to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Political considerations no doubt foreclose any confirmation proceedings before November, but in my view his conduct in this case shows him perfectly suited for the bench.