Top U.S. civil rights enforcer under fire steps downCritics say his office hired GOP loyalists over lawyers with civil rights experience
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department's top civil rights enforcer resigned Thursday following more than a year of criticism that his office filled its ranks with conservative loyalists instead of experienced attorneys.
Assistant Attorney General Wan J. Kim was the first immigrant and first Korean-American to head the department's civil rights division -- a post he held for just over two years.
Kim is the latest senior Justice official to leave amid a scathing congressional investigation that has raised questions about the department's political independence from the White House.
The civil rights division's Kim had been rumored for months to be leaving the department, and is expected to join a private law firm. He worked at Justice for over 10 years, starting as a criminal trial attorney, and was one of the few Senate-confirmed senior officials left.
"For over a decade now, Wan Kim has served the Department of Justice and the American people with distinction and honor," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a statement Thursday. "Wan has worked his way up through the department, and I will miss his honest opinions and valuable contributions as an adviser to me."
The department's civil rights division enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination, including at work, at election polls and even at casinos. In May, Kim's office settled with MGM Mirage Inc., the world's second-largest casino company, for $55,000 over complaints that several of its hotels were not accessible to the handicapped.
Kim also pursued the illegal and exploitative trafficking of foreign women and children who were forced into slave labor in the U.S. -- often working as prostitutes. His office helped re-ignite a decades-old murder case gone cold, winning a guilty conviction in June against a reputed Ku Klux Klansman who abducted two black teenagers in a long-ignored crime from Mississippi's bloody past.
But Justice's civil rights division has drawn criticism. Last year, a Boston Globe analysis of Justice Department hiring data found that the office had become highly politicized with the hiring of lawyers who had little civil rights experience but strong GOP credentials.
Moreover, critics contend that the office has largely focused on voter fraud cases -- which civil rights groups charge are intended to hold down minority turnout.
In June, Kim testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about transfer of three minority female lawyers from the his office's voting rights section. The move had been directed by Bradley Schlozman, the former voting rights chief who also has resigned, effective last week.
During his testimony, Kim told senators that he had been concerned by the move and said remarks by Schlozman that appeared to question the women's patriotism "were intemperate and inopportune."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said Kim's resignation was part of a mass exodus from the Justice Department that "must not hinder our efforts to demand accountability." More