As a tenured law professor at Stanford University, Pamela Karlan earned $1 million a year. We now know that she stayed on the Stanford payroll, at that same impressive salary, during the entire 17 months she served as the Justice Department’s principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Karlan left her DOJ post on July 1, just one day before the department delivered documents to the American Accountability Foundation under a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed her unorthodox and ethically suspect arrangement with the Biden administration.
Karlan is a radical leftist. As a political appointee at DOJ, she threatened to sue the Arizona Senate over its audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, absurdly claiming that such an audit violated the Voting Rights Act. She was also behind DOJ’s latest lawsuit against Arizona for trying to verify the citizenship of its voters.
Karlan has long opposed efforts to assure the integrity of our elections and has no qualms about playing fast and loose with the facts. In the 1990s, as a private lawyer, she tried to overturn the vote fraud convictions of local Democrats in Greene County, Alabama, who stole the votes of black voters in local elections.
In 2009, she asserted that, for five of its eight years, the George W. Bush administration refused to enforce the Voting Rights Act except for one case on behalf of white voters. In reality, the Bush administration filed far more voting cases than the Obama administration ever did. And Karlan had served in the Obama Justice Department as well!
The FOIA materials raise serious potential ethical issues. While supposedly toiling full-time as a senior Justice Department official pledged to serve the best interests of the public at large, Karlan was also working for Stanford University and, indirectly, the university donors funding her outlandish salary.
This arrangement sets the stage for conflicts of interest. For example, Stanford filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit brought by Asian American students against Harvard University over its racially discriminatory admissions policy. Stanford supports and engages in the same discriminatory behavior, claiming it “is essential to achieving the educational mission” of Stanford. When the case reached the Supreme Court, the Justice Department also filed an amicus brief arguing that such racially discriminatory practices do not violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Karlan’s name is on that brief as the “Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General.”
So, Karlan, as a senior DOJ lawyer, took a position that seemed designed to protect the university paying her $1 million a year from any potential liability and to allow the university to continue to discriminate in its admissions policies. Such a position does not serve the public’s interest as a whole, and certainly does not serve the interests of the Asian American students who are being kept out of elite schools like Stanford due to the color of their skin.
Normally, such an arrangement might be a criminal violation of 18 U.S.C. § 209. Per the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, this statute “prohibits [federal] employees from being paid by someone other than the United States for doing their official Government duties.” As the Government Accountability Office says, citing a 1922 attorney general opinion, “no Government official or employee should serve two masters to the prejudice of his unbiased devotion to the interests of the United States.”
However, the Justice Department temporarily detailed Karlan to her federal position under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (5 U.S.C. § 3372). This statute allows an executive branch department to appoint, in addition to state and local government employees, “an employee of an institution of higher education to a Federal agency.”
Stanford has a huge endowment. Why did the administration feel compelled to give Karlan’s government salary to the school? And what gives Justice the right to make a $183,100 “donation” to Stanford, since Congress clearly did not authorize public funds to be expended for that purpose?
To some, this may come across as nothing more than a shell game, reminiscent of the kind of money laundering schemes prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. Karlan was being paid a million dollars and protecting Stanford’s interests while working as a federal employee. The federal government was giving her official government salary to a university that has accepted billions of dollars in federal grants over the decades.
The Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department should investigate the ethical issues raised by the Karlan appointment, as should the department’s inspector general. And if the House, whether under current or new leadership starts holding oversight hearings of this Department of Justice, they can add this to the ever-growing list of things to investigate.
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