As a fairly good student attending a great law school, I would like to believe I could hold my own against any other law student in the country. But if, before an interview for a highly competitive and prestigious position, I began to chat with a another interviewee who happened to mention that he was at the top of his class at Harvard, was involved in impressive extracurricular groups, and was fluent in a highly valuable language, I would probably sigh, turn around, and walk straight out the door, thankful that at least I didn’t waste my time.
But if this interview happened to be for an internship or a spot in the Honors Program with the Department of Justice, all I would have to do is put the magic words “Republican” or “Federalist Society” on my application, and voila, I’ve moved to the top of the list. And if my Ivy League colleague made the mistake to write “fluent in Arabic” and “member of the Council on American Islamic Relations,” I would likely become be a shoe-in.
This is how some of the most important positions are being filled in our Justice Department, a June 24 report disclosed. Enormously qualified young law school students and recent graduates are not even given the chance to interview for positions in the Department’s esteemed Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP) and Attorney General’s Honor Program, due to political partisanship and polarization. At least one applicant screener was told to weed out the “wackos and wack jobs” who I’m sure regularly graduate with honors from elite law schools and seek to work comparatively low-paying jobs in the civil service.
And these “wackos?” Membership of the “liberal” American Constitution Society will apparently earn you that label. So will working for “wack jobs” like past and future presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, and Dennis Kucinich, or writing a newspaper editorial opposing the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. All are evidently enough to get the even most qualified applicant’s resume thrown into the garbage bin.
Look, I understand that presidents have the right and responsibility to shape the form and direction of the government, and I’m actually heartened to hear that someday I could possibly be competitive with the graduates of the elite schools, but this is ridiculous. Career attorneys at the Justice Department outlast presidents and political trends. We need the most qualified and dedicated people to staff these jobs, and the unfair and partisan manner that they are being staffed discourages the best and the brightest on from even applying. The scandals that have recently tarnished the DOJ , closely followed by New York attorney Scott Horton, illustrate the perils of politicizing governmental departments best independent. Let’s hope that the next president, Republican or Democrat, is able to restore the Department’s prior luster.
Summer Intern 2008
J.D. Candidate 2010
University of Colorado