Reversing a trend of the 1990s, the percentages of black and women attorneys at the Justice Department have declined under Attorney General John Ashcroft, Newsday reports. The presence of black attorneys slipped in each of the past three years, and the proportion of women attorneys has risen, dropped and risen again, but still falls short of its September 2000 level.
Justice’s percentage of white attorneys has risen. The overall proportion of minority attorneys, including blacks, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians, has been flat since 2001. That is when Ashcroft replaced Janet Reno, who oversaw a steady rise in minority and women attorneys over her eight years in office.
The trend raises concerns about the Justice Department’s historic role as a leader in civil rights and minority employment, said David Wilkins of Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession.
Justice spokesman Mark Corallo said, “We are concerned about declines in certain groups. We wouldn’t have initiated a first-of-its-kind diversity initiative if we didn’t have concerns.” The plan, announced in February, seeks to retain minority, women and other young attorneys by assigning them senior-staff mentors and by setting up a $300,000 fund to help pay off law school loans. Corallo declined to release any statistics on diversity at Justice. The department has not issued its usual annual diversity reports this year or last year.
In October, officials released a June 2002 KPMG Consulting report on attorney diversity in 2001, but only after blacking out half of it. Corallo blamed the lack of data on restrictions arising from a reverse-discrimination lawsuit against the federal government as well as a still-developing federal directive on agency diversity reports.
Newsday obtained federal Office of Personnel Management records for attorneys by race, ethnicity ,and gender for 2000 through June 2003, as well as Justice’s own annual diversity reports from 1997 to 2001.