The Justice Department has broadened an internal investigation into whether Monica Goodling and other department aides “improperly took into account political considerations in hiring employees.”
Specifically, investigators want to learn more about Goodling’s admission this week that she had “considered party affiliation in screening applicants to become immigration judges.” The New York Times notes:
Some 75 of the 226 immigration judges have been appointed during the Bush administration. Forty-nine of them were appointed during the tenure of Mr. Gonzales, and it was during part of that period that Ms. Goodling was involved.
These immigration judges, stationed throughout the country, handled more than 300,000 cases last year on matters like deportation proceedings and political asylum requests.
Unlike federal judges, immigration judges are civil service employees, to be appointed by the attorney general based on professional qualifications, not their politics.
The process for selecting immigration judges is “murky.” While there is “a formal application process for immigration judges” run by Executive Office of Immigration Review, the attorney general “has the option to pre-empt the formal vetting process and directly hire a judge of his choosing.” This may explain why a Legal Times investigation last June found:
Among the 19 immigration judges hired since 2004: Francis Cramer, the former campaign treasurer for New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg; James Nugent, the former vice chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party; and Chris Brisack, a former Republican Party county chairman from Texas who had served on the state library commission under then-Gov. George W. Bush.”
As the Los Angeles Times notes, “The internal Justice Department investigation, although focused on Goodling, could turn up embarrassing information about Gonzales’ management practices and what, if anything, he knew about the role that politics played in hiring employees protected by civil service laws.”
UPDATE: TPMMuckraker has more HERE.