DOJ Partisan Shell Game Raises Ethical Questions About Pamela Karlan


As a tenured law professor at Stanford University, Pamela Karlan earned $1 million a year. We now know that she remained on Stanford’s payroll, at that same impressive salary, for the entire 17 months she served as the Justice Department’s senior assistant deputy attorney general for civil rights.

Karlan left his post at the DOJ on July 1, just a day before the department turned over documents to the American Accountability Foundation under a Freedom of Information Act request that exposed his unorthodox and ethically suspect arrangement with the Biden administration.

Karlan is a radical leftist. As a political appointee at the 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 the latest DOJ lawsuit against Arizona for trying to verify the citizenship of its constituents.

Karlan has long opposed efforts to ensure the integrity of our elections and has no qualms playing fast and loose with the facts. In the 1990s, as a private attorney, she attempted to overturn voter fraud convictions of local Democrats in Greene County, Alabama, who stole votes from black voters in local elections.

In 2009, she claimed that for five of its eight years, the George W. Bush administration had refused to enforce the Voting Rights Act except for one case on behalf of white voters. In fact, the Bush administration has filed far more ballot papers than the Obama administration ever did. And Karlan had also served in Obama’s Justice Department.

FOIA documents raise serious potential ethical issues. While supposedly working full-time as a senior Department of Justice official committed to serving the best interests of the general public, Karlan also worked for Stanford University and, indirectly, university donors funding his eccentric salary.

This arrangement opens the door to conflicts of interest. For example, Stanford filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit brought by Asian American students against Harvard University for its racially discriminatory admissions policy. Stanford supports and engages in the same discriminatory behavior, saying it “is essential to the achievement of Stanford’s educational mission.”

When the case went to 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 appears on this memoir as “Deputy Principal Attorney General”.

So Karlan, as lead counsel for the DOJ, took a position that seemed designed to shield the university that was paying him $1 million a year from potential liability and to allow the university to continue to show of discrimination in its admissions policies.

Such a position does not serve the interest of the public as a whole, and certainly does not serve the interests of Asian American students who are kept out of elite schools like Stanford because of the color of their skin.

Ordinarily, such an arrangement could be a criminal violation of 18 USC § 209. According to the US Office of Government Ethics, this law “prohibits [federal] employees from being paid by someone other than the United States for the performance of their official government duties.

As the Government Accountability Office puts it, citing a 1922 attorney general’s opinion, “no government official or employee should serve two masters at the expense of impartial devotion to the interests of the United States.”

However, the Department of Justice temporarily assigned Karlan to his federal position under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (5 USC § 3372). This law allows a department of the executive branch to appoint, in addition to state and local government employees, “an employee of an institution of higher education to a federal agency.”

While Karlan continued to receive his salary from Stanford, the Department of Justice donated his federal salary of $183,100 to the university.

Stanford has a huge endowment. Why did the administration feel compelled to donate Karlan’s government salary to the school? And what gives the DOJ the right to “donate” $183,100 to Stanford, since Congress clearly did not authorize public funds to be spent for this purpose?

To some, this may seem like nothing more than a ballgame, reminiscent of the type of money laundering schemes pursued by the criminal division of the Department of Justice.

Karlan was paid a million dollars and protected Stanford’s interests while working as a federal employee. The federal government was paying its official salary to a university that had accepted billions of dollars in federal grants over decades.

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is expected to investigate the ethical issues raised by Karlan’s appointment, as is the department’s inspector general.

And if the House, whether under the current or new leadership, starts holding oversight hearings of this Justice Department, it can add that to the ever-growing list of things to investigate.

Originally published by The Washington Times. Reproduced with permission from The daily signala publication of The Heritage Foundation.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Epoch Times.


Hans von Spakovsky is a senior legal officer at The Heritage Foundation, a former commissioner of the Federal Election Commission, and a former associate attorney general for civil rights at the US Department of Justice. He is a board member of the Public Interest Legal Foundation.

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