[Take me to] A galaxy far, far away
The DOJ pick to run the Bureau of Prisons is bringing baggage (or leaving it in Oregon). Chad Meredith's nomination is still moving forward, HuffPost reports.
Before we dig in, at least there’s an amazing first set of pictures from the James Webb Space Telescope.
Even Google got in on it:
But, there is also everything else.
NEW PRISONS HEAD COMES FROM OREGON, WITH BAGGAGE: On Tuesday morning, the Justice Department announced that Attorney General Merrick Garland had selected Colette S. Peters to run the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
Peters has run the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) for the past decade. In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland called Peters “uniquely qualified to lead BOP.”
For her part, DOJ Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco — who the Associated Press reported was heavily involved in the selection process — said that Peters “has has a proven track record as a visionary leader in the field of corrections and public safety.”
Specifically, DOJ pointed to ODOC’s development of the “Oregon Way” under her leadership. As ODOC describes it, the goal of the “Oregon Way” is to “improve employee health and wellness, and reduce the use of segregation, by transforming environments inside correctional facilities to be more normal and humane.”
Bobbin Singh, the executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, however, expressed significant concerns about the appointment given his experience with her work in Oregon — including in ongoing litigation.
“This appointment is an insult to all those incarcerated in Oregon who are fighting for their civil rights and dignity,” Singh told Law Dork on Tuesday.
Less than a month ago, his organization sent a new report to state lawmakers, detailing ongoing problems in the department. In the letter to lawmakers accompanying the report, which was provided to Law Dork, Singh wrote, “Despite a cascade of evidence revealing serious issues within the department, ODOC continues to put forward a misleading narrative that either ignores the issues entirely, profoundly sanitizes the facts, or wrongly shifts blame and responsibility away from itself.”
Asked about Peters’s selection, Singh pointed to an ongoing federal retaliation lawsuit that his organization has been backing by Mark Wilson against ODOC as a crystallization of his problems with Peters’s tenure in Oregon. HuffPost’s Jessica Schulberg profiled Wilson, the “inmate legal assistant” at the center of the lawsuit, and explored his case earlier this year.
In an Associated Press interview conducted in conjunction with Peters’s BOP appointment on Tuesday, the AP reported that “Peters stressed the importance of working to ‘create an environment where people can feel comfortable coming forward and talking about misconduct.’”
Singh contrasted those comments to the AP with Peters’s actions in Oregon, quoting her as saying in a legislative hearing of Wilson’s retaliation lawsuit, “I look forward to litigating this issue in court.” Just this past week, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon denied a request that the court dismiss multiple claims in Wilson’s lawsuit (although none of them addressed the two claims where Peters is named).
Another person familiar with Peters’s work helped explain how Singh could have such criticisms and DOJ could nonetheless want Peters for the job: “She both runs a bad system and is one of the handful of best DOC heads in the country. She has made some concrete improvements to the system. But the system is still really bad. It says so much about American prisons that ODOC can both be very bad — and be one of the better ones in the country.”
In light of the significant problems faced by the Federal Bureau of Prisons that she will soon be leading — as detailed by a recent Associated Press investigation — Singh, however, questioned whether Peters is up to the job.
“Colette Peters will now take a big step up in responsibility from overseeing 12,000 people in custody to 150,000 people. On the evidence of her time in charge of Oregon’s prisons, she is not prepared to honestly confront problems within the carceral system,” he said in a statement. “This gives us grave concern about her ability to address the evidently serious issues at the Bureau of Prisons.”
As part of that evidence, Oregon Justice Resource Center Communications Director Alice Lundell highlighted the report that the organization issued in June, “ODOC: Agency in Crisis.”
Addressing “ODOC’s running thread of dysfunction,” as shown through more than 400 news articles mentioning the agency from the beginning of March in 2020 to the end of March in 2022, the report details “glaring and reoccurring issues within the ODOC’s staff, culture, and daily operations related to the abject treatment of adults in custody (AICs) and other agency staff.”
In addition to the concerns Singh has with Peters specifically, he also suggested that her selection highlighted potential problems within the Justice Department’s leadership, saying that the appointment “seems to have been made without thorough discussion with people who have advocated for the rights and dignity of incarcerated people.”
The AP article notes only that DOJ asked “advocates and others what they wanted to see in a new director” prior to posting the job description — not that feedback about applicants themselves was solicited from advocates.
According to the DOJ announcement, Peters starts at BOP in less than three weeks, on Aug. 2.
Law Dork, with Chris Geidner, is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
WE STILL DO NOT KNOW IF CHAD MEREDITH IS GETTING A JUDICIAL NOMINATION AND I CANNOT BELIEVE I’M STILL WRITING ABOUT THIS: On Monday, I wrote at MSNBC about Chad Meredith, the anti-abortion, Federalist Society-loving lawyer who President Biden was ready to nominate to a lifetime tenure judgeship as of June 23. Ultimately, especially for Law Dork readers who have been following this story, my point was pretty simple:
Biden owes Americans an explanation. The White House either needs to explain what the deal is and explain to Biden’s supporters why it’s worth it to put Meredith on the bench as part of that deal, or Biden needs to tell [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell the deal is off. But continued silence on the matter is not an answer.
Then, on Tuesday morning, HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery reported that, despite the overwhelming pushback — including, on the record, from Dem leaders in Kentucky and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin — and the White House silence, they have not backed off on the Meredith nomination. To the contrary, they are “privately signaling” that they will proceed, Bendery reported. Additionally, her source described a different “deal” between Biden and McConnell than that earlier reported by Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern:
“They’re defending it,” the source briefed last week on the White House’s plan told HuffPost, after requesting anonymity in order to speak freely about private conversations.
This source also believes that Meredith would likely be announced as part of a large package of judicial nominees that would include many picks that Democrats do like.
In the June 23 email from a White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs senior advisor to a staffer for Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear — reported by Joe Sonka and team at the Louisville Courier Journal — Meredith’s name was preceded by an “8,” suggesting that there were at least eight district court nominees planned for June 24.
Since then, Biden had only announced one district court nominee. Later Tuesday, however, Biden did announce a handful of judicial nominees, including four district court nominees, but they all were for Pennsylvania judgeships.
Still unclear: If Meredith is getting nominated; if so, when; and what the deal is.
Until then, us journalists will keep poking around.
TWO-CLIP TUESDAY: There are few things Rep. Liz Cheney appears to love more than giving a bombshell piece of information at the end of a Jan. 6 Committee hearing. Tuesday was no exception.
Over on the Senate side, Berkeley Law Professor Khiara Bridges, in what could have been a total gotcha moment, treated Sen. Josh Hawley — who raised his fist in support of the people who soon would invade the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and later still voted to challenge electoral votes after the Capitol invasion — exactly as he should be treated, by responding to his anti-trans, baiting questions directly and succinctly and by calling them out as anti-trans bigotry that can have real-world effects.
When he indignantly asked if she treated her students that way, she resisted saying … any of several things that I’ve shouted at Hawley while watching him on TV.
Instead, she said simply: “We have a good time in my class. You should join.
“You might learn a lot.”