Politically Connected Immigration Judges Unlikely to Face Consequences

DOJ officials may have committed a crime in appointing them.

ByABC News
July 30, 2008, 12:27 PM

July 30, 2008— -- Justice Department officials likely broke the law in getting Francis Cramer his job. But that doesn't mean he's going to have to give it up any time soon.

Bush appointees gave Cramer, a longtime friend of Karl Rove, a coveted seat as a federal immigration judge in 2004. He was one of several dozen judges who got their jobs on the immigration bench in a system that based appointments on political connections, beliefs and loyalty to President Bush and the Republican party, an internal Justice Department investigation found this week.

Taking political persuasion into account in these positions is against the law because immigration judges are considered career civil service jobs not political ones. Once these judges are in, they are almost certainly in for good, experts say. And many fear their appointment will have serious consequences for the way immigrants' cases will be judged.

"There is no accountability," says Nancy Morawetz, an immigration law professor at New York University Law School. "The net effect is that the people still on the bench are people appointed through an improper process."

There was little in Cramer's background as a New Hampshire-based commercial and personal injury lawyer that exposed him to immigration law. But Cramer had something better: political connections. He'd worked for Republican Sen. Judd Gregg and most importantly, the report found, he was childhood friends with Rove, one of President Bush's closest advisors.

Cramer's connections helped him win a nomination to the U.S Tax court, the IG found, but his nomination stalled after the American Bar Association raised questions about his qualifications. So in 2004, D. Kyle Sampson, then counselor to Attorney General John Ashcroft, who knew Cramer was a Rove loyalist, helped Cramer land a job as an immigration judge in Boston in 2004, according to the inspector general report.

Cramer's situation was hardly an anomaly. Beginning late in Attorney General John Ashcroft's tenure and under Gonzales, political appointees at the Justice Department took over the hiring of immigration judges from career staff, routinely taking names from the White House, Republican senators and other party loyalist, the inspector general report found.