Enforcement of civil rights laws suffered noticeably under the Bush administration, says a Government Accountability Office report obtained by the New York Times.

When compared with the Clinton administration, its findings show a significant drop in the enforcement of several major antidiscrimination and voting rights laws. For example, lawsuits brought by the division to enforce laws prohibiting race or sex discrimination in employment fell from about 11 per year under President Bill Clinton to about 6 per year under President George W. Bush.

The study also found a sharp decline in enforcement of a section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits electoral rules with discriminatory effects, from more than four cases a year under Mr. Clinton to fewer than two cases a year under Mr. Bush.

Civil rights lawyer Joseph Rich said the GAO report "provided hard data that the [Justice Department's civil rights] division was politicized in the Bush years," the Times reports.

But it appears that Republicans are prepared to fight back against accusations that they neglect enforcement of laws where civil rights are concerned. The Times reports that they plan to fight back at a House oversight hearing scheduled for Thursday.

They are focusing on a decision to downgrade voter-intimidation charges stemming from an incident in the 2008 election in which two members of the New Black Panther Party stood outside a Philadelphia precinct in militia uniforms, one of them holding a night stick. The charges were brought in the final days of the Bush administration and were downgraded and partially dropped in May.

[I]n a joint statement on Wednesday, Representatives Lamar Smith of Texas and Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, both Republicans, accused the department of a “cover-up,” saying officials have refused to answer questions about it. ... “If the Justice Department had any credible reason for dropping these charges, what do they have to hide by providing those answers to Congress?” [Rep. Lamar] Smith (R-TX) and [Rep. Frank] Wolf (R-VA) asked.

Democrats and civil rights groups said the Republicans were seeking to distract from the new evidence. During the Bush years, such criticism was based on anecdotes and incomplete data. But a report released in January by the department’s inspector general, citing internal e-mail and personnel files, confirmed that political appointees sought to hire conservatives and block liberals for career positions, contrary to civil service laws.