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Justice Department settles lawsuit over Honor Program political bias

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Published Saturday, March 15, 2014, at 2:22 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, March 16, 2014, at 6:31 a.m.

A Bush administration scandal has now been settled by the Obama administration, ending a roller-coaster lawsuit over political bias in the department’s Honor Program.

The settlement signed Friday, and made public Saturday, is “for more damages and attorney fees than we could possibly have imagined,” Daniel J. Metcalfe, executive director, Collaboration on Government Secrecy at American University’s Washington College of Law, said in an e-mail Saturday.

Metcalfe has been representing attorneys who allege they were not selected for interviews for the Bush-era Honors Program in 2006 because of their political affiliations. This was, a trial judge once wrote, “a dark chapter in the United States Department of Justice’s history.”

The Bush administration eager-beavers, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, “ looked for indications of an applicant’s association with ‘liberal’ organizations in the submitted application materials and also, in many instances, conducted internet searches on applicants to locate any other ‘leftist’ ideological affiliations.

One screener’s “ ideological litmus test included what she referred to as ‘leftist commentary,’ like the use of the phrase ‘social justice’ in an applicant’s essay (or)membership in groups like the American Constitution Society,” the appeals court added.

Metcalfe, founding director of the Justice Department’s Office of Information and Policy, said the department became eager to settle in order to avoid a trial.

The settlement includes $520,000 in attorneys fees, $50,000 for Matthew J. Faiella and $2,000 for Daniel J. Herber.

“It was a long, hard-fought battle to get justice for such young attorneys,” Metcalfe said, adding that “it should serve as a strong deterrent in years to come against a type of corruption that, even for the George W. Bush Administration, was especially deplorable.”

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