Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chris Coates

Washington Post Confirms More Than a Year of Conservative Reporting

Yes, that’s right. On Saturday’s front page, in a well-documented piece, the Washington Post did a very credible job in reporting the details of the New Black Party Panther case and, in large part, vindicating the witnesses and conservative outlets which have reported that: 1) the administration concealed that political appointees influenced the decision to dismiss a blatant case of voter intimidation; 2) the Obama administration does not believe in equal enforcement of civil rights laws; and 3) this single incident is indicative of a much larger problem than one case of voter intimidation.

As to the administration’s mindset:

Civil rights officials from the Bush administration have said that enforcement should be race-neutral. But some officials from the Obama administration, which took office vowing to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement, thought the agency should focus primarily on cases filed on behalf of minorities.

“The Voting Rights Act was passed because people like Bull Connor were hitting people like John Lewis, not the other way around,” said one Justice Department official not authorized to speak publicly, referring to the white Alabama police commissioner who cracked down on civil rights protesters such as Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia.

Translation: J. Christian Adams and Chris Coates, two former trial attorneys, testified truthfully under oath on this point; civil rights chief Thomas Perez did not.

Likewise, Adams and Coates are vindicated in their version of a case filed against an African American official:

Three Justice Department lawyers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their supervisors, described the same tensions, among career lawyers as well as political appointees. Employees who worked on the [Ike]Brown case were harassed by colleagues, they said, and some department lawyers anonymously went on legal blogs “absolutely tearing apart anybody who was involved in that case,” said one lawyer.

“There are career people who feel strongly that it is not the voting section’s job to protect white voters,” the lawyer said. “The environment is that you better toe the line of traditional civil rights ideas or you better keep quiet about it, because you will not advance, you will not receive awards and you will be ostracized.”

Translation: Wow.

As for the involvement of higher-ups:

Asked at a civil rights commission hearing in May whether any of the department’s political leadership was “involved in” the decision to dismiss the Panthers case, assistant attorney general for civil rights Thomas E. Perez said no.

“This is a case about career people disagreeing with career people,” said Perez, who was not in the department at the time. He also said that political appointees are regularly briefed on civil rights cases and, whenever there is a potentially controversial decision, “we obviously communicate that up the chain.”

Justice Department records turned over in a lawsuit to the conservative group Judicial Watch show a flurry of e-mails between the Civil Rights Division and the office of Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli, a political appointee who supervises the division.

Translation: Perez did not exactly say the truth under oath.

What about orders not to enforce the law in a race-neutral fashion?

In the months after the case ended, tensions persisted. A new supervisor, Julie Fernandes, arrived to oversee the voting section, and Coates testified that she told attorneys at a September 2009 lunch that the Obama administration was interested in filing cases – under a key voting rights section – only on behalf of minorities.

“Everyone in the room understood exactly what she meant,” Coates said. “No more cases like the Ike Brown or New Black Panther Party cases.”

Fernandes declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.

Translation: Perez and Fernandes will have to go.

The administration must be awfully panicky. Lots of DOJ  attorneys assisted in preparing false responses to discovery requests from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The administration repeatedly misrepresented the facts in public. The Justice Department tried to prevent percipient witnesses from testifying pursuant to subpoenas. Perez testified under oath untruthfully. The  Obama administration stonewalled both the commission and congressmen trying to uncover the facts which conservative outlets and now the Post have revealed. The DOJ tried to bully attorneys who were prepared to tell the truth. There is a term for that: obstruction of justice.

And what’s more, GOP committee chairmen with subpoena power will take over in January when the new Congress convenes. Expect hearings, some resignations, and maybe a prosecution or two. The “small potatoes” story the mainstream media pooh-poohed will be the first serious scandal of the last two years of Obama’s term. Do I hear that Eric Holder wants to spend “more time with his family”?

Two final notes. Conservatives who caught wind of this story being underway expressed concern that the Post reporters might end up pulling their punches, given this Post editorial from several weeks ago. That fear turned out to be unfounded. This is one instance in which the wall between the editorial and news sections held firm. (It often works the other way, of course. The Post’s opinion editors, for example, were on top of the Chas Freeman story, which its news reporters ignored.) And secondly, sources who spoke to the reporters tells me that the Post was under severe pressure from the DOJ not to run this sort of story. It seems as though the Post‘s reporters find the current crew at the DOJ quite “unprofessional”. One must give credit to those two reporters for withstanding the pressure — and see it as a sign that the administration’s bark isn’t scaring anyone these days.

Yes, that’s right. On Saturday’s front page, in a well-documented piece, the Washington Post did a very credible job in reporting the details of the New Black Party Panther case and, in large part, vindicating the witnesses and conservative outlets which have reported that: 1) the administration concealed that political appointees influenced the decision to dismiss a blatant case of voter intimidation; 2) the Obama administration does not believe in equal enforcement of civil rights laws; and 3) this single incident is indicative of a much larger problem than one case of voter intimidation.

As to the administration’s mindset:

Civil rights officials from the Bush administration have said that enforcement should be race-neutral. But some officials from the Obama administration, which took office vowing to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement, thought the agency should focus primarily on cases filed on behalf of minorities.

“The Voting Rights Act was passed because people like Bull Connor were hitting people like John Lewis, not the other way around,” said one Justice Department official not authorized to speak publicly, referring to the white Alabama police commissioner who cracked down on civil rights protesters such as Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia.

Translation: J. Christian Adams and Chris Coates, two former trial attorneys, testified truthfully under oath on this point; civil rights chief Thomas Perez did not.

Likewise, Adams and Coates are vindicated in their version of a case filed against an African American official:

Three Justice Department lawyers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their supervisors, described the same tensions, among career lawyers as well as political appointees. Employees who worked on the [Ike]Brown case were harassed by colleagues, they said, and some department lawyers anonymously went on legal blogs “absolutely tearing apart anybody who was involved in that case,” said one lawyer.

“There are career people who feel strongly that it is not the voting section’s job to protect white voters,” the lawyer said. “The environment is that you better toe the line of traditional civil rights ideas or you better keep quiet about it, because you will not advance, you will not receive awards and you will be ostracized.”

Translation: Wow.

As for the involvement of higher-ups:

Asked at a civil rights commission hearing in May whether any of the department’s political leadership was “involved in” the decision to dismiss the Panthers case, assistant attorney general for civil rights Thomas E. Perez said no.

“This is a case about career people disagreeing with career people,” said Perez, who was not in the department at the time. He also said that political appointees are regularly briefed on civil rights cases and, whenever there is a potentially controversial decision, “we obviously communicate that up the chain.”

Justice Department records turned over in a lawsuit to the conservative group Judicial Watch show a flurry of e-mails between the Civil Rights Division and the office of Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli, a political appointee who supervises the division.

Translation: Perez did not exactly say the truth under oath.

What about orders not to enforce the law in a race-neutral fashion?

In the months after the case ended, tensions persisted. A new supervisor, Julie Fernandes, arrived to oversee the voting section, and Coates testified that she told attorneys at a September 2009 lunch that the Obama administration was interested in filing cases – under a key voting rights section – only on behalf of minorities.

“Everyone in the room understood exactly what she meant,” Coates said. “No more cases like the Ike Brown or New Black Panther Party cases.”

Fernandes declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.

Translation: Perez and Fernandes will have to go.

The administration must be awfully panicky. Lots of DOJ  attorneys assisted in preparing false responses to discovery requests from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The administration repeatedly misrepresented the facts in public. The Justice Department tried to prevent percipient witnesses from testifying pursuant to subpoenas. Perez testified under oath untruthfully. The  Obama administration stonewalled both the commission and congressmen trying to uncover the facts which conservative outlets and now the Post have revealed. The DOJ tried to bully attorneys who were prepared to tell the truth. There is a term for that: obstruction of justice.

And what’s more, GOP committee chairmen with subpoena power will take over in January when the new Congress convenes. Expect hearings, some resignations, and maybe a prosecution or two. The “small potatoes” story the mainstream media pooh-poohed will be the first serious scandal of the last two years of Obama’s term. Do I hear that Eric Holder wants to spend “more time with his family”?

Two final notes. Conservatives who caught wind of this story being underway expressed concern that the Post reporters might end up pulling their punches, given this Post editorial from several weeks ago. That fear turned out to be unfounded. This is one instance in which the wall between the editorial and news sections held firm. (It often works the other way, of course. The Post’s opinion editors, for example, were on top of the Chas Freeman story, which its news reporters ignored.) And secondly, sources who spoke to the reporters tells me that the Post was under severe pressure from the DOJ not to run this sort of story. It seems as though the Post‘s reporters find the current crew at the DOJ quite “unprofessional”. One must give credit to those two reporters for withstanding the pressure — and see it as a sign that the administration’s bark isn’t scaring anyone these days.

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Hiding Facts in a Scandal Never Works

Since the Obama team pulled the plug on the voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party, the administration has tried to keep the facts under wraps and the relevant documents and witnesses from surfacing. But this never works in Washington. In these sorts of scandals, the facts will still come out one way or another.

The new Congress with GOP chairmen will have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents and then take the administration to federal court if its stonewalling continues. Judicial Watch is already in federal court challenging the administration’s withholding of documents from Thomas Perrelli, the associate attorney general. Then there are Justice Department attorneys who fear they may be caught in the scandal — because they complied with Obama appointees’ directions to withhold documents improperly, provided misleading answers to discovery requests, or aided in obstructing investigations. Now they may very well decide to assist investigators in an effort to distance themselves from the wrongdoers. There are many witnesses to the meetings, e-mails, documents, and discussions described by  Chris Coates and J. Christian Adams. It’s inconceivable all of them will remain silent.

The Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, is, or should be, another source of concern for the administration. When Reps. Frank Wolf and Lamar Smith were struggling in 2009 to get facts about the dismissal of the New Black Panther case, they wrote to Fine to implore him to open an investigation. Now, for many years, Fine has pushed for greater statutory authority to act as DOJ’s centralized watchdog, which in essence would overshadow the Office of Professional Responsibility (whose reputation has been poor and only deteriorated when its work on the John Yoo and Jay Bybee investigation was repudiated). In 2009, Fine said he lacked the authority to pursue the matter. But that was when the Obama team was riding high and ample evidence of systemic wrongdoing hadn’t been confirmed. In September 2010, both Obama’s political standing and the state of the evidence have changed.

Sure enough, Fine recently informed Wolf and Smith that he’s now undertaking that investigation. The New Black Panther Party scandal might finally give Fine the visibility and respect he has long sought. And it sure won’t harm his reputation with the new Congress.

Since the Obama team pulled the plug on the voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party, the administration has tried to keep the facts under wraps and the relevant documents and witnesses from surfacing. But this never works in Washington. In these sorts of scandals, the facts will still come out one way or another.

The new Congress with GOP chairmen will have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents and then take the administration to federal court if its stonewalling continues. Judicial Watch is already in federal court challenging the administration’s withholding of documents from Thomas Perrelli, the associate attorney general. Then there are Justice Department attorneys who fear they may be caught in the scandal — because they complied with Obama appointees’ directions to withhold documents improperly, provided misleading answers to discovery requests, or aided in obstructing investigations. Now they may very well decide to assist investigators in an effort to distance themselves from the wrongdoers. There are many witnesses to the meetings, e-mails, documents, and discussions described by  Chris Coates and J. Christian Adams. It’s inconceivable all of them will remain silent.

The Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, is, or should be, another source of concern for the administration. When Reps. Frank Wolf and Lamar Smith were struggling in 2009 to get facts about the dismissal of the New Black Panther case, they wrote to Fine to implore him to open an investigation. Now, for many years, Fine has pushed for greater statutory authority to act as DOJ’s centralized watchdog, which in essence would overshadow the Office of Professional Responsibility (whose reputation has been poor and only deteriorated when its work on the John Yoo and Jay Bybee investigation was repudiated). In 2009, Fine said he lacked the authority to pursue the matter. But that was when the Obama team was riding high and ample evidence of systemic wrongdoing hadn’t been confirmed. In September 2010, both Obama’s political standing and the state of the evidence have changed.

Sure enough, Fine recently informed Wolf and Smith that he’s now undertaking that investigation. The New Black Panther Party scandal might finally give Fine the visibility and respect he has long sought. And it sure won’t harm his reputation with the new Congress.

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The Wrongdoing, the Cover-Up, and Executive Privilege

Like any administration snared in a Beltway scandal, the Obama team has two problems in the New Black Panther Party scandal: the wrongdoing and the cover-up.

The wrongdoing is not merely that the Obama administration dismissed a blatant case of voter intimidation. It is not merely that an NAACP attorney pressured the Obama team to dump the case. It is not merely that the Obama Justice Department explicitly told attorneys not to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which helps prevent voter fraud. It is that the Obama team believes that the civil rights laws run only one way and offer protection only to certain racial or ethnic groups. That’s not the law (or the Equal Protection Clause has no meaning), and it runs afoul of Americans’ basic sense of fairness. That is why the Obama administration denies that it holds such a view. They may be radicals, but they aren’t dumb.

The cover-up takes two forms. There are the false statements put out by the Justice Department and made under oath by the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, first, denying that political appointees were involved in the case and, second, disclaiming the existence of hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws. But there is also the Nixonian abuse of executive privilege to prevent scrutiny of the Justice Department. It is this latter issue that has gotten too little attention.

The administration has refused to produce witnesses and documents, employing a spurious claim of “deliberative process” privilege. Case law and Justice Department memoranda make clear that this is an offshoot of the executive privilege that is applicable only when invoked by the president (or, some would say, a Cabinet-level official). But Obama hasn’t done this. After all, “executive privilege” sounds bad. It reeks of “cover-up.” But without a formal invocation of the privilege, it is lawlessness, pure and simple, to withhold documents and witnesses in response to lawful subpoenas, FOIA requests, and a federal statute (which obligates the DOJ to cooperate with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights).

It was both inaccurate and nervy for the Justice Department’s spokesman to claim that Chris Coates’s testimony was short on facts. To begin with, Coates cited example after example to support the conclusion that the Obama team considers only racial, ethnic, and language minorities to be protected by civil rights laws. But more to the point, he was prevented from disclosing even more details because of the administration’s privilege claim. Again and again, Coates explained that he couldn’t answer questions out of respect for the DOJ’s position. Similarly, the log obtained by Judicial Watch lists dozens of e-mails and documents transmitted between political appointees and the voting section that would substantiate testimony by Coates. All that information remains hidden from view because the Justice Department is concealing it.

The mainstream media have just woken up to the extent and importance of the scandal, so perhaps they will get around to this aspect of the case. Yet I get the feeling that if it had been the Bush administration telling whistleblowers not to testify and withholding, absent any legal basis, key documents that could implicate high-ranking officials, the media would have already been all over this.

Like any administration snared in a Beltway scandal, the Obama team has two problems in the New Black Panther Party scandal: the wrongdoing and the cover-up.

The wrongdoing is not merely that the Obama administration dismissed a blatant case of voter intimidation. It is not merely that an NAACP attorney pressured the Obama team to dump the case. It is not merely that the Obama Justice Department explicitly told attorneys not to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which helps prevent voter fraud. It is that the Obama team believes that the civil rights laws run only one way and offer protection only to certain racial or ethnic groups. That’s not the law (or the Equal Protection Clause has no meaning), and it runs afoul of Americans’ basic sense of fairness. That is why the Obama administration denies that it holds such a view. They may be radicals, but they aren’t dumb.

The cover-up takes two forms. There are the false statements put out by the Justice Department and made under oath by the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, first, denying that political appointees were involved in the case and, second, disclaiming the existence of hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws. But there is also the Nixonian abuse of executive privilege to prevent scrutiny of the Justice Department. It is this latter issue that has gotten too little attention.

The administration has refused to produce witnesses and documents, employing a spurious claim of “deliberative process” privilege. Case law and Justice Department memoranda make clear that this is an offshoot of the executive privilege that is applicable only when invoked by the president (or, some would say, a Cabinet-level official). But Obama hasn’t done this. After all, “executive privilege” sounds bad. It reeks of “cover-up.” But without a formal invocation of the privilege, it is lawlessness, pure and simple, to withhold documents and witnesses in response to lawful subpoenas, FOIA requests, and a federal statute (which obligates the DOJ to cooperate with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights).

It was both inaccurate and nervy for the Justice Department’s spokesman to claim that Chris Coates’s testimony was short on facts. To begin with, Coates cited example after example to support the conclusion that the Obama team considers only racial, ethnic, and language minorities to be protected by civil rights laws. But more to the point, he was prevented from disclosing even more details because of the administration’s privilege claim. Again and again, Coates explained that he couldn’t answer questions out of respect for the DOJ’s position. Similarly, the log obtained by Judicial Watch lists dozens of e-mails and documents transmitted between political appointees and the voting section that would substantiate testimony by Coates. All that information remains hidden from view because the Justice Department is concealing it.

The mainstream media have just woken up to the extent and importance of the scandal, so perhaps they will get around to this aspect of the case. Yet I get the feeling that if it had been the Bush administration telling whistleblowers not to testify and withholding, absent any legal basis, key documents that could implicate high-ranking officials, the media would have already been all over this.

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Obama Justice Department Rocked

The former head of the Justice Department’s New Black Panther trial team, Chris Coates, testified Friday before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. See here and here and here (subscription required). Before Coates broke his silence, the commission’s critics, a minority of the commissioners, and the mainstream media insisted that the dismissal of a slam-dunk voter-intimidation case had no significance beyond the single incident on Election Day 2008. However, Coates’s account of the administration’s hostility to race-neutral enforcement of voting laws and refusal to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act (requiring that states clean up their voting rolls to prevent voter fraud) blew that assertion to smithereens.

I was in the hearing room on Friday. Nearly as riveting as Coates’s testimony was the frantic performance of the administration’s chief lackey, Commissioner Michael Yaki. He asked Coates about the civil rights division’s memo-writing procedures, Bush-era cases, and Coates’s friendship with a former department attorney but never asked any questions about the specific allegations that Obama appointees opposed equal enforcement of the voting laws. An audience member wisecracked, “When all else fails, blame George Bush.” Read More

The former head of the Justice Department’s New Black Panther trial team, Chris Coates, testified Friday before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. See here and here and here (subscription required). Before Coates broke his silence, the commission’s critics, a minority of the commissioners, and the mainstream media insisted that the dismissal of a slam-dunk voter-intimidation case had no significance beyond the single incident on Election Day 2008. However, Coates’s account of the administration’s hostility to race-neutral enforcement of voting laws and refusal to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act (requiring that states clean up their voting rolls to prevent voter fraud) blew that assertion to smithereens.

I was in the hearing room on Friday. Nearly as riveting as Coates’s testimony was the frantic performance of the administration’s chief lackey, Commissioner Michael Yaki. He asked Coates about the civil rights division’s memo-writing procedures, Bush-era cases, and Coates’s friendship with a former department attorney but never asked any questions about the specific allegations that Obama appointees opposed equal enforcement of the voting laws. An audience member wisecracked, “When all else fails, blame George Bush.”

Try as Democrats might to ignore the blockbuster evidence, Coates’s testimony was a game changer. Granted, the testimony contained information already revealed in conservative outlets and by former DOJ attorney J. Christian Adams. But Coates confirmed these facts and added a wealth of new details. An African American attorney and his mother (who also works for DOJ) were harassed for working on a voting case brought against an African American defendant. Obama’s deputy assistant general for civil rights, Julie Fernandez, repeatedly told attorneys not to enforce Section 8 or bring cases against minority defendants. Coates’s supervisor, who directly ordered the case’s dismissal, told him to stop asking applicants if they could enforce laws in a race-neutral fashion. Coates briefed civil rights chief Thomas Perez on the hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws — before Perez feigned ignorance of such sentiments in sworn testimony. In sum, Coates’s appearance was the scandal’s tipping point.

Conservative outlets have reported on the case for over a year; mainstream reporters have averted their eyes. After Coates’s performance, the Washington Post’s page-one story proclaimed that the case is “ratcheting up.” Politico had pooh-poohed the story; it now acknowledges that conservatives had it correct all along. (“Coates’ highly-charged testimony before the Civil Rights Commission echoed [conservatives’] allegations, as well as the testimony of J. Christian Adams.”) The testimony was so stunning that the New York Times might have to cover it.

Meanwhile, the DOJ’s spokesman bristled that Coates wasn’t “authorized” to testify and wasn’t an “appropriate” witness. In a transparent coordination with Yaki, DOJ’s spokesman blamed the Bush administration for politicizing the department. But it will be impossible to shrug off or smear Coates. As the Post conceded, Coates’s testimony will “carry greater weight because he worked decades ago as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, has won awards from civil rights groups and lacks the partisan GOP resume of the department’s harshest opponents.”

Moreover, Coates testimony was all the more compelling because he was so circumspect, refusing to testify about internal discussions that the department considers privileged. (He readily agreed to provide more details if the DOJ waived its privilege claim.) He declined to draw inferences unsupported by his own observations. Asked whether Obama appointees’ directive not to enforce Section 8’s anti-fraud provisions was racially motivated, he answered with a litigator’s precision: it might have not been the intent, but the result was to allow bloated voting rolls in heavily minority districts that were Democratic strongholds.

No wonder the administration tried to muzzle Coates. Nevertheless, the department’s stonewalling has failed, and those parroting the administration’s line (“much ado about nothing”) look foolish. Inevitably, more Justice Department witnesses and documents will surface. (Judicial Watch has sued the DOJ, demanding documents evidencing the involvement of the department’s No. 3 man.)

Moreover, after November, Republicans almost certainly will assume chairmanships of key congressional committees. (Staff members from the offices of Reps. Lamar Smith and Frank Wolf, who have doggedly pursued the case, listened attentively in the front row on Friday.) A spokesman for Smith released this statement:

A founding principle of this nation is equality under the law. That means it is unacceptable for the Justice Department to determine whether to enforce a law based upon the race of a defendant or victim. And yet, according to testimony by the former chief voting rights attorney for the Department, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing. … The Judiciary Committee should immediately open an investigation into allegations of improper practices within the Civil Rights Division and Justice Department officials should be subpoenaed to testify before Congress. There is no excuse for racial discrimination anywhere, but within the halls of the U.S. Department of Justice, it is the height of hypocrisy.

If Obama appointees refuse to testify voluntarily, the new chairmen will issue subpoenas.

It will be interesting to hear Obama officials explain why they failed to investigate accusations of wrongdoing and instead insisted that voting-rights laws be enforced only on behalf of minorities. It will be must-see TV when Perez is grilled on his inaccurate testimony claiming ignorance of hostility to the colorblind enforcement of voting laws. Will attorneys be referred to their state bar for professional misconduct?

This has become another headache for the Obama administration, especially for Eric Holder. Maybe he will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republican chairmen grab their gavels.

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Obstruction of Justice

On August 6, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights sent Eric Holder a letter reiterating its request to allow Chris Coates, the former head of the New Black Panther Party trial team, to testify. Coates had, upon his relocation to the U.S. attorney’s office in South Carolina, given a goodbye speech detailing the dangers of his colleagues’ aversion to colorblind enforcement of civil rights laws, which is the central focus of the commission’s work. The commission, in an effort to avoid any claim of “privilege,” offered to limit questioning to whether there is a “policy and/or culture within the Department of discriminatory enforcement of civil rights laws” and whether the administration is refusing to enforce the portion of the Voting Rights Act that requires local and state governments to clean up the voting rolls to prevent fraud.

On August 11, civil rights department head Thomas Perez, who has been accused of giving misleading testimony to the commission and to Congress, sent a rather preposterous response. He assured the commission that there was no problem, no problem at all, because the Justice Department is committed “to the evenhanded application of the law.” And since Perez has told the commission so, there is no need to allow Coates to testify. (“In light of my clear articulation of our enforcement policy … we do not believe that a Civil Rights Division attorney who has been on detail to the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Carolina since mid-January 2010 is the appropriate witness to testify.”)

It’s jaw-dropping, really, even for this crew. Coates, who has detailed knowledge of the most explosive allegations, can’t be the right person to testify, because he was shuffled off to South Carolina after his maddening experience on the New Black Panther trial case and a fiery farewell address in which he accused the department of failing to enforce the law in an “evenhanded” manner. So he can’t possibly be the right person to testify.

As this report details, an acrimonious commission meeting took place on Friday in which a minority of the commissioners carried the department’s water and found no problem with the galling stonewall. But a majority of the commissioners found that the Obama administration had been obstructionist and passed a motion that restated the commission’s statutory authority and the attorney general’s refusal to cooperate with the commission’s investigation:

The Commission’s organic statute authorizes it to subpoena witnesses and the production of written material in aid of its mission, and it authorizes the Attorney General to enforce the Commission’s subpoenas in federal court if any person or entity refuses to comply. The Commission’s statute also requires that “All Federal agencies shall cooperate fully with the Commission to the end that it may effectively carry out its functions and duties,” 42 U.S.C. § 1975b(e), but it is equally unclear whether the Commission has recourse to seek judicial enforcement of this command, absent representation from the Department of Justice. … In the NBPP investigation that is the subject of this report, the Department of Justice refused to comply with certain Commission requests for information concerning DOJ’s enforcement actions, and it instructed its employees not to comply with the Commission’s subpoenas for testimony.

The commission also adopted the following:

Congress should consider amendments to the Commission’s statute to address investigations in which the Attorney General and/or the Department of Justice have a conflict of interest in complying fully with the Commission’s requests for information.  Options to address a potential conflict of interest might include the following:

Enactment of a statutory procedure by which the Commission may request the Attorney General to appoint a special counsel with authority to represent it in federal court, which request the Attorney General must personally respond to in writing within a specified period of time.

Enactment of a statutory provision to clarify that the Commission may hire its own counsel and proceed independently in federal court if the Attorney General refuses to enforce a subpoena or other lawful request, especially those directed at the Department of Justice, its officers, or its employees.

A conscious decision not to alter the Commission’s statute or a statutory confirmation that the Attorney General and Department of Justice can act against the Commission’s interest without any particular explanation.

The last option would surely be popular with congressional Democrats.

But the real resolution of this will probably come only if Coates and others defy the department’s order to ignore the commission’s subpoenas (not likely if they want to continue working in this administration), or if control of the House and/or Senate flips to GOP control, and Coates, Perez, and others are ordered to appear and give congressional testimony under oath.

On August 6, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights sent Eric Holder a letter reiterating its request to allow Chris Coates, the former head of the New Black Panther Party trial team, to testify. Coates had, upon his relocation to the U.S. attorney’s office in South Carolina, given a goodbye speech detailing the dangers of his colleagues’ aversion to colorblind enforcement of civil rights laws, which is the central focus of the commission’s work. The commission, in an effort to avoid any claim of “privilege,” offered to limit questioning to whether there is a “policy and/or culture within the Department of discriminatory enforcement of civil rights laws” and whether the administration is refusing to enforce the portion of the Voting Rights Act that requires local and state governments to clean up the voting rolls to prevent fraud.

On August 11, civil rights department head Thomas Perez, who has been accused of giving misleading testimony to the commission and to Congress, sent a rather preposterous response. He assured the commission that there was no problem, no problem at all, because the Justice Department is committed “to the evenhanded application of the law.” And since Perez has told the commission so, there is no need to allow Coates to testify. (“In light of my clear articulation of our enforcement policy … we do not believe that a Civil Rights Division attorney who has been on detail to the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Carolina since mid-January 2010 is the appropriate witness to testify.”)

It’s jaw-dropping, really, even for this crew. Coates, who has detailed knowledge of the most explosive allegations, can’t be the right person to testify, because he was shuffled off to South Carolina after his maddening experience on the New Black Panther trial case and a fiery farewell address in which he accused the department of failing to enforce the law in an “evenhanded” manner. So he can’t possibly be the right person to testify.

As this report details, an acrimonious commission meeting took place on Friday in which a minority of the commissioners carried the department’s water and found no problem with the galling stonewall. But a majority of the commissioners found that the Obama administration had been obstructionist and passed a motion that restated the commission’s statutory authority and the attorney general’s refusal to cooperate with the commission’s investigation:

The Commission’s organic statute authorizes it to subpoena witnesses and the production of written material in aid of its mission, and it authorizes the Attorney General to enforce the Commission’s subpoenas in federal court if any person or entity refuses to comply. The Commission’s statute also requires that “All Federal agencies shall cooperate fully with the Commission to the end that it may effectively carry out its functions and duties,” 42 U.S.C. § 1975b(e), but it is equally unclear whether the Commission has recourse to seek judicial enforcement of this command, absent representation from the Department of Justice. … In the NBPP investigation that is the subject of this report, the Department of Justice refused to comply with certain Commission requests for information concerning DOJ’s enforcement actions, and it instructed its employees not to comply with the Commission’s subpoenas for testimony.

The commission also adopted the following:

Congress should consider amendments to the Commission’s statute to address investigations in which the Attorney General and/or the Department of Justice have a conflict of interest in complying fully with the Commission’s requests for information.  Options to address a potential conflict of interest might include the following:

Enactment of a statutory procedure by which the Commission may request the Attorney General to appoint a special counsel with authority to represent it in federal court, which request the Attorney General must personally respond to in writing within a specified period of time.

Enactment of a statutory provision to clarify that the Commission may hire its own counsel and proceed independently in federal court if the Attorney General refuses to enforce a subpoena or other lawful request, especially those directed at the Department of Justice, its officers, or its employees.

A conscious decision not to alter the Commission’s statute or a statutory confirmation that the Attorney General and Department of Justice can act against the Commission’s interest without any particular explanation.

The last option would surely be popular with congressional Democrats.

But the real resolution of this will probably come only if Coates and others defy the department’s order to ignore the commission’s subpoenas (not likely if they want to continue working in this administration), or if control of the House and/or Senate flips to GOP control, and Coates, Perez, and others are ordered to appear and give congressional testimony under oath.

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Don’t Give Me the Facts, I’ve Got My Story

I’m amazed how Politico can run a story trying to debunk the New Black Panther scandal without interviewing trial team member Christian Adams or any other former or current Justice Department attorney, without relating any of Adams’s testimony, without referencing the voluminous research and evidence unearthed by other news outlets, without contacting the offices of congressmen (Reps. Lamar Smith and Frank Wolf) who have been pressing for answers from the administration, and without even mentioning the allegations that the Justice Department won’t file civil rights cases against minorities. For over a year, Politico — as well as every other mainstream outlet — ignored the story, so the name of the game, I suppose, is to explain that they didn’t miss anything.

It is especially odd that a good reporter like Ben Smith wouldn’t make the effort to interview Adams. Adams is doing extensive interviews and is readily available. He’s not been critiquing the media coverage, but did promptly respond to my request for comment on the Politico story (he really is very easy to reach). He told me that Smith did contact him,  and Adams responded saying he was away for the day but inviting Smith to contact him if it was urgent. Adams never heard anything further from Smith. Adams continued:

My area of expertise is the law and the truth about the case. All I can do is provide truthful testimony and information. I know what [trial team leader] Chris Coates would testify to, and I know there are multiple corroborating witnesses both inside and outside the Department. So to me things like Ben Smith are a short lived distraction that in the long run don’t seem to matter given the facts. The idea that I would quit a job to no pay to make something up isn’t resonating beyond a core of sycophantic nuts. If I’m lying or exaggerating, charge me with perjury.

Adams is right that the facts are there — multiple witnesses, documents, and e-mails. They establish that a meritorious case of voter intimidation was dropped by Obama political appointees and that there is an aversion in the Obama administration to filing cases against minorities. That only conservative outlets have bothered to root around and uncover the story tells you more about the mainstream media than it does about the merits of the case.

It’s bad enough to miss an important story; it’s worse to write a belated story which steers clear of the facts you missed. Even when all the legwork is done by others and the story is figuratively handed to them, and even explained to them, some reporters can’t be bothered with the facts.

One final point: it’s not just right wingers who recognize that this is a legitimate and important story. The Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander does a mea culpa for the Post’s delinquency in reporting. Bravo. (Oh, if only Politico were so professional and candid.) I look forward to the Post’s future reporting — there certainly is plenty to investigate.

UPDATE: Jan Crawford, the fine legal reporter previously with ABC and now with CBS, has a comprehensive report here. Stephen Hayes’s excellent summary of the case and of the mainstream media’s disinclination to report on it is here.

I’m amazed how Politico can run a story trying to debunk the New Black Panther scandal without interviewing trial team member Christian Adams or any other former or current Justice Department attorney, without relating any of Adams’s testimony, without referencing the voluminous research and evidence unearthed by other news outlets, without contacting the offices of congressmen (Reps. Lamar Smith and Frank Wolf) who have been pressing for answers from the administration, and without even mentioning the allegations that the Justice Department won’t file civil rights cases against minorities. For over a year, Politico — as well as every other mainstream outlet — ignored the story, so the name of the game, I suppose, is to explain that they didn’t miss anything.

It is especially odd that a good reporter like Ben Smith wouldn’t make the effort to interview Adams. Adams is doing extensive interviews and is readily available. He’s not been critiquing the media coverage, but did promptly respond to my request for comment on the Politico story (he really is very easy to reach). He told me that Smith did contact him,  and Adams responded saying he was away for the day but inviting Smith to contact him if it was urgent. Adams never heard anything further from Smith. Adams continued:

My area of expertise is the law and the truth about the case. All I can do is provide truthful testimony and information. I know what [trial team leader] Chris Coates would testify to, and I know there are multiple corroborating witnesses both inside and outside the Department. So to me things like Ben Smith are a short lived distraction that in the long run don’t seem to matter given the facts. The idea that I would quit a job to no pay to make something up isn’t resonating beyond a core of sycophantic nuts. If I’m lying or exaggerating, charge me with perjury.

Adams is right that the facts are there — multiple witnesses, documents, and e-mails. They establish that a meritorious case of voter intimidation was dropped by Obama political appointees and that there is an aversion in the Obama administration to filing cases against minorities. That only conservative outlets have bothered to root around and uncover the story tells you more about the mainstream media than it does about the merits of the case.

It’s bad enough to miss an important story; it’s worse to write a belated story which steers clear of the facts you missed. Even when all the legwork is done by others and the story is figuratively handed to them, and even explained to them, some reporters can’t be bothered with the facts.

One final point: it’s not just right wingers who recognize that this is a legitimate and important story. The Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander does a mea culpa for the Post’s delinquency in reporting. Bravo. (Oh, if only Politico were so professional and candid.) I look forward to the Post’s future reporting — there certainly is plenty to investigate.

UPDATE: Jan Crawford, the fine legal reporter previously with ABC and now with CBS, has a comprehensive report here. Stephen Hayes’s excellent summary of the case and of the mainstream media’s disinclination to report on it is here.

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Did Thomas Perez Testify Truthfully?

J. Christian Adams, the former Justice Department attorney who was a key member of its New Black Panther litigation team, made a splash when he testified that the Civil Rights Division under Obama is hostile to filing civil rights cases that don’t follow the historic pattern — i.e., a white defendant violating minorities’ rights. (Helpful summaries are found here and here.) It is, if accurate, far more explosive than the dismissal of an isolated case, as egregious as the withdrawal of a default judgment against the New Black Panthers was.

The notion that civil rights laws can’t or shouldn’t be used against a minority defendant who seeks to deprive others of their civil rights is noxious to most Americans. According to Adams’s testimony, however, it is a commonplace at the Justice Department and was articulated by Julie Fernandes, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Moreover, it raises a question as to whether Thomas Perez was being truthful to Congress and to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when he testified under oath that he was unaware of any such sentiments. Before the Commission, Adams testified: “But Mr. Chris Coates and I and [Robert] Popper went and met with him the day before he testified here for about an hour, and we laid out all of our arguments and begged him not to testify inaccurately about the case.” He nevertheless testified that the case was unsupported by the law and the facts, and suggested the lawyers may have violated Rule 11, which provides for sanctions in the event of a frivolous legal action.

But that’s not all. A knowledgeable source tells me that at that same meeting, trial team head Chris Coates, who participated in the meeting by phone, explicitly warned him that there was a deep hostility to race-neutral enforcement of the law and he provided details to Perez. Sitting in the room with Perez were Adams and Popper. Perez had aides who were taking notes in the room. Nevertheless, under oath and before Congress and the Commission, Perez testified that he was unaware of such sentiments. If, indeed, he was briefed and then delivered this testimony, then he misled Congress and the Commission.

Now did he conduct a thorough investigation and find Coates unpersuasive? Well, the testimony before the Commission was the next day and I doubt there was time to commence — let alone complete — such an inquiry. Moreover, he denied having heard about such allegations. If he had been briefed the day before, this was patently untrue.

It is time for Congress to exercise appropriate oversight and get to the bottom of this issue. Moreover, since the Justice Department can’t investigate itself, I don’t see why a special prosecutor isn’t in order.

Now, two additional former DOJ attorneys have come forward to corroborate the hostility toward colorblind enforcement. Their affidavits can be read here. The witnesses are piling up and the stonewall is turning to rubble. We may finally be getting to the reason why Eric Holder’s Justice Department has done everything possible to keep members of the trial team from testifying. Their exposure is much greater than one case.

J. Christian Adams, the former Justice Department attorney who was a key member of its New Black Panther litigation team, made a splash when he testified that the Civil Rights Division under Obama is hostile to filing civil rights cases that don’t follow the historic pattern — i.e., a white defendant violating minorities’ rights. (Helpful summaries are found here and here.) It is, if accurate, far more explosive than the dismissal of an isolated case, as egregious as the withdrawal of a default judgment against the New Black Panthers was.

The notion that civil rights laws can’t or shouldn’t be used against a minority defendant who seeks to deprive others of their civil rights is noxious to most Americans. According to Adams’s testimony, however, it is a commonplace at the Justice Department and was articulated by Julie Fernandes, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Moreover, it raises a question as to whether Thomas Perez was being truthful to Congress and to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when he testified under oath that he was unaware of any such sentiments. Before the Commission, Adams testified: “But Mr. Chris Coates and I and [Robert] Popper went and met with him the day before he testified here for about an hour, and we laid out all of our arguments and begged him not to testify inaccurately about the case.” He nevertheless testified that the case was unsupported by the law and the facts, and suggested the lawyers may have violated Rule 11, which provides for sanctions in the event of a frivolous legal action.

But that’s not all. A knowledgeable source tells me that at that same meeting, trial team head Chris Coates, who participated in the meeting by phone, explicitly warned him that there was a deep hostility to race-neutral enforcement of the law and he provided details to Perez. Sitting in the room with Perez were Adams and Popper. Perez had aides who were taking notes in the room. Nevertheless, under oath and before Congress and the Commission, Perez testified that he was unaware of such sentiments. If, indeed, he was briefed and then delivered this testimony, then he misled Congress and the Commission.

Now did he conduct a thorough investigation and find Coates unpersuasive? Well, the testimony before the Commission was the next day and I doubt there was time to commence — let alone complete — such an inquiry. Moreover, he denied having heard about such allegations. If he had been briefed the day before, this was patently untrue.

It is time for Congress to exercise appropriate oversight and get to the bottom of this issue. Moreover, since the Justice Department can’t investigate itself, I don’t see why a special prosecutor isn’t in order.

Now, two additional former DOJ attorneys have come forward to corroborate the hostility toward colorblind enforcement. Their affidavits can be read here. The witnesses are piling up and the stonewall is turning to rubble. We may finally be getting to the reason why Eric Holder’s Justice Department has done everything possible to keep members of the trial team from testifying. Their exposure is much greater than one case.

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Obama Civil Rights Head Defends Black Panther Dismissal

On Friday, the much anticipated testimony of Civil Rights division head Thomas Perez before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was heard. As the Washington Times reported, Perez implicitly rebuked both the trial team that filed the case and the appellate section that endorsed the work of the trial team:

Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Friday there was “insufficient evidence” to bring a civil complaint against members of the New Black Panther Party who disrupted a Philadelphia polling place in the 2008 general elections.

Mr. Perez, the only Justice Department official to testify publicly before the commission about the case, said that without sufficient proof that party members or the organization’s leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, directed or controlled unlawful activities at the poll or made speeches to incite or produce lawless action, the complaint “would have likely failed” in court.

Perez declared that, of course, the Justice Department is committed to equal enforcement of the civil rights laws regardless of the race of the defendants. But one commissioner, independent Todd Gaziano, isn’t buying it:

I wanted to believe there were all sorts of wrongheaded but NOT racist reasons for the decision to dismiss the defendants. But there are several reasons for me to believe that a racist application of the voting rights laws might have been at play. There is some evidence that is already in the public domain. Examples of that are the fact that there apparently is a culture in the civil rights division where some senior section chiefs and other supervising attorneys have expressed the view and engaged in conduct supporting that view that they don’t believe the voting rights laws should ever be enforced against blacks and other minorities. Those reports have been in the press in the past year or so and it seems to me from Perez’ response that he has done nothing to investigate whether that culture or those caustic views really are held by some of his supervising attorneys.”

And: “There is other evidence. There is the absence of a satisfactory explanation for why they did dismiss the Black Panther suit. Reasonable people know that if there is a racist reason for something and a good reason for something, and the reason has been called into question, a decent law enforcement agency when called to explain would want to provide the reasonable explanation – and they still haven’t done that. Third, [former civil rights division Voting Section chief] Chris Coates’ farewell address suggests that there still are several people in the division who do not believe in a race neutral application of the voting rights laws. And it seemed from Perez’ responses to me today that he did nothing specific to investigate why Chris Coates believed that [about his former co-workers].

So what now? The Justice Department continues to stonewall, refusing to allow witnesses with direct knowledge of the decision-making process to testify and refusing to appoint a special prosecutor to litigate the issue of the commission’s subpoenas. It’s quite a performance by an administration that promised to insulate from politics the work of its career attorneys. Well, one possibility is that one or more members of the trial team will defy the orders of their superiors not to testify and come forward to defend their work and reveal the interference they encountered. Another is that if the House flips control, congressional oversight will finally be undertaken and the appropriate witnesses subpoenaed and required to testify. One senses that after Perez’s performance and his hear-no-evil-see-no-evil approach to widespread reports that his division does have a double standard for civil rights enforcement, conscientious career lawyers must be mulling their options.

On Friday, the much anticipated testimony of Civil Rights division head Thomas Perez before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was heard. As the Washington Times reported, Perez implicitly rebuked both the trial team that filed the case and the appellate section that endorsed the work of the trial team:

Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Friday there was “insufficient evidence” to bring a civil complaint against members of the New Black Panther Party who disrupted a Philadelphia polling place in the 2008 general elections.

Mr. Perez, the only Justice Department official to testify publicly before the commission about the case, said that without sufficient proof that party members or the organization’s leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, directed or controlled unlawful activities at the poll or made speeches to incite or produce lawless action, the complaint “would have likely failed” in court.

Perez declared that, of course, the Justice Department is committed to equal enforcement of the civil rights laws regardless of the race of the defendants. But one commissioner, independent Todd Gaziano, isn’t buying it:

I wanted to believe there were all sorts of wrongheaded but NOT racist reasons for the decision to dismiss the defendants. But there are several reasons for me to believe that a racist application of the voting rights laws might have been at play. There is some evidence that is already in the public domain. Examples of that are the fact that there apparently is a culture in the civil rights division where some senior section chiefs and other supervising attorneys have expressed the view and engaged in conduct supporting that view that they don’t believe the voting rights laws should ever be enforced against blacks and other minorities. Those reports have been in the press in the past year or so and it seems to me from Perez’ response that he has done nothing to investigate whether that culture or those caustic views really are held by some of his supervising attorneys.”

And: “There is other evidence. There is the absence of a satisfactory explanation for why they did dismiss the Black Panther suit. Reasonable people know that if there is a racist reason for something and a good reason for something, and the reason has been called into question, a decent law enforcement agency when called to explain would want to provide the reasonable explanation – and they still haven’t done that. Third, [former civil rights division Voting Section chief] Chris Coates’ farewell address suggests that there still are several people in the division who do not believe in a race neutral application of the voting rights laws. And it seemed from Perez’ responses to me today that he did nothing specific to investigate why Chris Coates believed that [about his former co-workers].

So what now? The Justice Department continues to stonewall, refusing to allow witnesses with direct knowledge of the decision-making process to testify and refusing to appoint a special prosecutor to litigate the issue of the commission’s subpoenas. It’s quite a performance by an administration that promised to insulate from politics the work of its career attorneys. Well, one possibility is that one or more members of the trial team will defy the orders of their superiors not to testify and come forward to defend their work and reveal the interference they encountered. Another is that if the House flips control, congressional oversight will finally be undertaken and the appropriate witnesses subpoenaed and required to testify. One senses that after Perez’s performance and his hear-no-evil-see-no-evil approach to widespread reports that his division does have a double standard for civil rights enforcement, conscientious career lawyers must be mulling their options.

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Why Don’t Liberals Care About Voter Intimidation?

Hans Von Spakovsky, a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, provides a helpful summary of Friday’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on the New Black Panther case. As he notes, it seems that Democrats don’t care much for the notion that the Justice Department should vigorously pursue a case of obvious and extreme voter intimidation that occurred at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008. He writes:

The Democratic commissioners, especially Michael Yaki, a former Pelosi staffer, tried to minimize what happened in Philadelphia; he even said at one point that there may have been no more than a couple of people who were turned away. Yaki was unable to produce any evidence that would support that assertion.

Yaki’s Democratic colleague Arlan Melendez claimed the investigation was a waste of time and resources. According to him, everyone should just take the DOJ’s word that the case was meritless. Most of the other commissioners pointed out that the commission has a special mandate to protect voting rights and that not only was the Justice Department’s dismissal of this case inexplicable, but its refusal to provide information, documents, or witnesses violated the law in general and specifically its responsibility not to engage in selective enforcement.

Even after video and compelling testimony by veteran civil rights activist Bartle Bull and former deputy associate attorney general Greg Katsas left little doubt as to the egregious behavior of the New Black Panthers, the Democrats were unmoved:

The most amusing part of the hearing was watching Commissioner Yaki try to run interference for the Obama administration. Yaki was clearly unhappy to have the administration’s dirty linen dragged out into the public arena, and he did his best to try to cross up witnesses like Bull and Katsas when he was questioning them. Yaki obviously believes he’s a very smart lawyer, but Bull and Katsas both ran rings around him. Bull, who did an outstanding job of pointing out how outrageously the Panthers had acted in Philadelphia and how wrong the Justice Department was in dismissing this lawsuit. Imagine for a moment if members of a white supremacist group had shown up in paramilitary uniforms with swastikas at a polling place, and yet the Justice Department dropped a voter-intimidation lawsuit it had already won against the group. The hearing room at the commission would have been swarming with news crews, and C-SPAN would surely have covered the hearing live. However, none of that happened. C-SPAN wasn’t there, and neither was a single one of the national cable-news channels.

There really is no other explanation than the obvious one: the Obama Justice Department — aided and encouraged by their Democratic handmaidens on the commission, a compliant liberal media, and a chorus of professional civil rights activists — simply doesn’t believe that voter intimidation can be perpetrated by African-Americans. It is a “waste of time” in their minds to pursue the New Black Panthers because the “real” job of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is going after white racists. The laws are on the books to protect minorities and minorities only, they are convinced. We know from Chris Coates, a trial lawyer on the case, that this thinking is pervasive in the department. And Yaki inadvertently confirmed as much by his behavior at the hearing.

The head of the civil rights division, Thomas Perez, is due to testify before the commission in May. The commissioners should ask him about the seeming refusal of his department to fully and fairly apply the civil rights laws to all Americans. He will need to tread a careful line — too candid and he risks creating a firestorm (as average Americans don’t buy the idea that laws are there only for particular racial groups); too disingenuous and he risks offending the civil rights lobby. It will be interesting to watch.

Hans Von Spakovsky, a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, provides a helpful summary of Friday’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on the New Black Panther case. As he notes, it seems that Democrats don’t care much for the notion that the Justice Department should vigorously pursue a case of obvious and extreme voter intimidation that occurred at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008. He writes:

The Democratic commissioners, especially Michael Yaki, a former Pelosi staffer, tried to minimize what happened in Philadelphia; he even said at one point that there may have been no more than a couple of people who were turned away. Yaki was unable to produce any evidence that would support that assertion.

Yaki’s Democratic colleague Arlan Melendez claimed the investigation was a waste of time and resources. According to him, everyone should just take the DOJ’s word that the case was meritless. Most of the other commissioners pointed out that the commission has a special mandate to protect voting rights and that not only was the Justice Department’s dismissal of this case inexplicable, but its refusal to provide information, documents, or witnesses violated the law in general and specifically its responsibility not to engage in selective enforcement.

Even after video and compelling testimony by veteran civil rights activist Bartle Bull and former deputy associate attorney general Greg Katsas left little doubt as to the egregious behavior of the New Black Panthers, the Democrats were unmoved:

The most amusing part of the hearing was watching Commissioner Yaki try to run interference for the Obama administration. Yaki was clearly unhappy to have the administration’s dirty linen dragged out into the public arena, and he did his best to try to cross up witnesses like Bull and Katsas when he was questioning them. Yaki obviously believes he’s a very smart lawyer, but Bull and Katsas both ran rings around him. Bull, who did an outstanding job of pointing out how outrageously the Panthers had acted in Philadelphia and how wrong the Justice Department was in dismissing this lawsuit. Imagine for a moment if members of a white supremacist group had shown up in paramilitary uniforms with swastikas at a polling place, and yet the Justice Department dropped a voter-intimidation lawsuit it had already won against the group. The hearing room at the commission would have been swarming with news crews, and C-SPAN would surely have covered the hearing live. However, none of that happened. C-SPAN wasn’t there, and neither was a single one of the national cable-news channels.

There really is no other explanation than the obvious one: the Obama Justice Department — aided and encouraged by their Democratic handmaidens on the commission, a compliant liberal media, and a chorus of professional civil rights activists — simply doesn’t believe that voter intimidation can be perpetrated by African-Americans. It is a “waste of time” in their minds to pursue the New Black Panthers because the “real” job of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is going after white racists. The laws are on the books to protect minorities and minorities only, they are convinced. We know from Chris Coates, a trial lawyer on the case, that this thinking is pervasive in the department. And Yaki inadvertently confirmed as much by his behavior at the hearing.

The head of the civil rights division, Thomas Perez, is due to testify before the commission in May. The commissioners should ask him about the seeming refusal of his department to fully and fairly apply the civil rights laws to all Americans. He will need to tread a careful line — too candid and he risks creating a firestorm (as average Americans don’t buy the idea that laws are there only for particular racial groups); too disingenuous and he risks offending the civil rights lobby. It will be interesting to watch.

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Civil Rights Laws Run Only One Way?

A curious report appears over at Main Justice, a website that offers nice juicy gossip and often mirrors the liberal legal party line from the Justice Department. It seems that one of the New Black Panther Party members at issue in the controversial dismissal of the Election Day voter-intimidation case is hopping mad:

Last week in a podcast interview, [New Black Panther Party president Malik Zulu] Shabazz let loose — with a racially tinged rant against the Republicans he said are trying to turn the issue into campaign ads for this fall’s midterm elections. “These right-wing white, red-faced, red-neck Republicans are attacking the hell out of the New Black Panther Party, and we’re organizing now to fight back,” Shabazz told the podcast host, a man who calls himself “Brother Gary” and hosts a show called Conscious Chats on Blogtalk Radio.

Shabazz singled out GOP Reps. Frank Wolf (Va.) and Lamar Smith (Texas) — two critics on the House Judiciary Committee — along with “Old Uncle Tom, Michael Steele, the black Negro who heads the Republican National Committee.”

“We gearing up for a showdown with this cracker,” Shabazz said, although it wasn’t clear to whom he was referring. “He keep talking – we going to Capitol Hill, we’re just gearing up right now, we’ll go to Capitol Hill.”

Well, probably not what the Holder Justice Department was anxious to hear as it attempts to stonewall its way through the inquiry. But what’s even more interesting is the apparent “defense” offered by Main Justice for those Obama officials who chose to dismiss the case over the objections of career attorneys: “No actual voters came forward to complain — the objections came from white Republican poll watchers.”

So is that what’s at the root of the case here — the notion that voter-intimidation claims are less than valid if white Republicans bring them? The behavior of the New Black Panther Party members was, after all, captured on videotape, so the conduct of the defendants is really not in dispute. What seems to be gnawing at the liberal legal types, however, is that a voter-intimidation case could be instituted by whites — white Republicans no less. Read More

A curious report appears over at Main Justice, a website that offers nice juicy gossip and often mirrors the liberal legal party line from the Justice Department. It seems that one of the New Black Panther Party members at issue in the controversial dismissal of the Election Day voter-intimidation case is hopping mad:

Last week in a podcast interview, [New Black Panther Party president Malik Zulu] Shabazz let loose — with a racially tinged rant against the Republicans he said are trying to turn the issue into campaign ads for this fall’s midterm elections. “These right-wing white, red-faced, red-neck Republicans are attacking the hell out of the New Black Panther Party, and we’re organizing now to fight back,” Shabazz told the podcast host, a man who calls himself “Brother Gary” and hosts a show called Conscious Chats on Blogtalk Radio.

Shabazz singled out GOP Reps. Frank Wolf (Va.) and Lamar Smith (Texas) — two critics on the House Judiciary Committee — along with “Old Uncle Tom, Michael Steele, the black Negro who heads the Republican National Committee.”

“We gearing up for a showdown with this cracker,” Shabazz said, although it wasn’t clear to whom he was referring. “He keep talking – we going to Capitol Hill, we’re just gearing up right now, we’ll go to Capitol Hill.”

Well, probably not what the Holder Justice Department was anxious to hear as it attempts to stonewall its way through the inquiry. But what’s even more interesting is the apparent “defense” offered by Main Justice for those Obama officials who chose to dismiss the case over the objections of career attorneys: “No actual voters came forward to complain — the objections came from white Republican poll watchers.”

So is that what’s at the root of the case here — the notion that voter-intimidation claims are less than valid if white Republicans bring them? The behavior of the New Black Panther Party members was, after all, captured on videotape, so the conduct of the defendants is really not in dispute. What seems to be gnawing at the liberal legal types, however, is that a voter-intimidation case could be instituted by whites — white Republicans no less.

This only serves to highlight the remarks of Chris Coates, the head of the Justice Department’s trial team, who upon his departure had these pointed words for his colleagues (paraphrased by Hans von Spakovsky):

Since many minority officials are now involved in the administration of elections in many jurisdictions, it is imperative that they believe that the anti-discrimination and anti-intimidation provisions of the Voting Rights Act will be enforced against them by the Justice Department, just as it is imperative that white election officials believe that Justice will enforce the provisions of the Voting Rights Act against them. I fear that actions that indicate that the Justice Department is not in the business of suing minority election officials, or not in the business of filing suits to protect white voters from discrimination or intimidation, will only encourage election officials, who are so inclined, to violate the Voting Rights Act.

I cannot imagine that any lawyers who believe in the rule of law would want to encourage violations of the Voting Rights Act by anyone, whether the wrongdoers are members of a minority group or white people.

It’s hard to believe that had the polling place been in Alabama and the intimidators been clad in KKK garb that the Obama Justice Department would not have proceeded full steam ahead against all defendants to the full extent of the law. But when the roles were reversed, a different standard seemed to apply. Indeed, Coates is no stranger to that double standard of enforcement from the liberal civil rights lawyers who dominate the Civil Rights Division. He explained his experience in a voter-intimidation case he brought when the victims were white and the perpetrator African American:

Selective enforcement of the law, including the Voting Rights Act, on the basis of race is just not fair and does not achieve justice.

I have had many discussions concerning these cases. In one of my discussions concerning the Ike Brown case, I had a lawyer say he was opposed to our filing such suits. When I asked why, he said that only when he could go to Mississippi (perhaps 50 years from now) and find no disparities between the socioeconomic levels of black and white residents, might he support such a suit. But until that day, he did not think that we should be filing voting-rights cases against blacks or on behalf of white voters.

The problem with such enforcement is that it is not in compliance with the statute enacted by Congress. There is simply nothing in the VRA itself or its legislative history that supports the claim that it should not be equally enforced until racial socioeconomic parity is achieved. Such an enforcement policy might be consistent with certain political ideologies, but it is not consistent with the Voting Rights Act that Justice is responsible for enforcing.

And that may be what is at the root of the New Black Panther Party case — the unspoken but endemic belief on the Left that the civil rights laws run only one way. The Obama administration must sense that this is anathema to most Americans. Hence, the stonewall. But having dismissed the New Black Panther Party case, it should now explain its decision and justify that approach to civil rights enforcement. Does the administration really believe that it simply isn’t right to prosecute a case where white Republicans are bringing the claim? It sure does look that way.

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What’s the Basis for Holder’s Stonewall?

In the flap over the New Black Panther Party case, the Justice Department appears to be making up rules as it goes along. Back on December 18, 2009, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in a letter from its general counsel David Blackwood to the Justice Department’s Joseph H. Hunt, wrote to explain why the commission had resorted to sending subpoenas to obtain information on the controversial dismissal of the voter-intimidation case and to try to dislodge the reason for the Justice Department’s apparent refusal to cooperate with the commission. He wrote:

To allay your concerns, the Commission requested a meeting where we would negotiate revisions to our discovery plan so as to eliminate or minimize the likelihood the Commission’s work would interfere with OPR’s pending investigation. Your refusal to schedule a meeting even to discuss the Commission’s pending discovery requests and depositions suggests that DOJ is not interested in working to develop a path that will allow each agency to fulfill its statutory obligation. As you are aware, the Commission first began requesting related information from the Department on June 16, 2009, six months ago. After six months passed without a substantive response from DOJ, the Commission felt it necessary to issue subpoenas.

Hunt wrote back on December 23, denying that the department was refusing to cooperate and asserting that it wasn’t unwilling to meet with the commission. Hunt seemed to suggest that the department wanted the chance to “set forth its position in writing,” but alas, it never consented to a meeting and still has not presented a viable legal theory for refusing to cooperate. In its blizzard of excuses in its discovery response, Eric Holder’s Justice Department asserts the attorney-client privilege. But a 1982 opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel specifically found that “the interests implicated by the attorney-client privilege generally are subsumed under a claim of executive privilege … and the considerations of separation of powers and effective performance of constitutional duties determine the validity of the claim of privilege.” A 1986 opinion similarly makes clear that the attorney-client privilege “is not usually considered to constitute a separate basis [from executive privilege] for resisting congressional demands for information.” In short, there really isn’t an attorney-client privilege, just executive privilege, but the Obami seem unwilling to use that politically charged defense. Read More

In the flap over the New Black Panther Party case, the Justice Department appears to be making up rules as it goes along. Back on December 18, 2009, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in a letter from its general counsel David Blackwood to the Justice Department’s Joseph H. Hunt, wrote to explain why the commission had resorted to sending subpoenas to obtain information on the controversial dismissal of the voter-intimidation case and to try to dislodge the reason for the Justice Department’s apparent refusal to cooperate with the commission. He wrote:

To allay your concerns, the Commission requested a meeting where we would negotiate revisions to our discovery plan so as to eliminate or minimize the likelihood the Commission’s work would interfere with OPR’s pending investigation. Your refusal to schedule a meeting even to discuss the Commission’s pending discovery requests and depositions suggests that DOJ is not interested in working to develop a path that will allow each agency to fulfill its statutory obligation. As you are aware, the Commission first began requesting related information from the Department on June 16, 2009, six months ago. After six months passed without a substantive response from DOJ, the Commission felt it necessary to issue subpoenas.

Hunt wrote back on December 23, denying that the department was refusing to cooperate and asserting that it wasn’t unwilling to meet with the commission. Hunt seemed to suggest that the department wanted the chance to “set forth its position in writing,” but alas, it never consented to a meeting and still has not presented a viable legal theory for refusing to cooperate. In its blizzard of excuses in its discovery response, Eric Holder’s Justice Department asserts the attorney-client privilege. But a 1982 opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel specifically found that “the interests implicated by the attorney-client privilege generally are subsumed under a claim of executive privilege … and the considerations of separation of powers and effective performance of constitutional duties determine the validity of the claim of privilege.” A 1986 opinion similarly makes clear that the attorney-client privilege “is not usually considered to constitute a separate basis [from executive privilege] for resisting congressional demands for information.” In short, there really isn’t an attorney-client privilege, just executive privilege, but the Obami seem unwilling to use that politically charged defense.

So has the president or his attorney general invoked executive privilege? Commissioner Todd Gaziano told me it’s not clear. He says, “Not only has the Department refused to give us the information — the documents and answers to which we are statutorily entitled — but it still has not given us a legal argument or justification for not doing so.” He noted that this occurs “in the face of binding department authority,” which shows there is no valid attorney-client privilege.

The White House thought it appropriate to invoke executive privilege to block testimony of its social secretary, so perhaps that’s where they’re going with this. But that privilege arguably can only be invoked by the president or his department heads, in this case Holder. Maybe if Obama ever gives a press conference he can tell us. Or maybe at the upcoming confirmation hearing of the not-yet-selected No. 2 man in the Justice Department, an enterprising senator can find out why the department thinks it can make up new rules, avoid explaining what exactly they are, and refuse to permit anyone to peer into a decision that apparently is so indefensible, it requires a Nixonian-like defensive strategy.

While Holder has prevented his employees from testifying before the commission, former voting-rights section chief Chris Coates has made his views known. His rationale (which should be read in full here) for bringing the case against the New Black Panther Party is a tribute to the notions of equal protection and fairness. The Holder team won’t tell us what was wrong with that analysis and why it countermanded the decision of Coates and his team, dismissing a case as egregious as the New Black Panther Party matter. As Coates said in his goodbye remarks to his colleagues:

A lot has been said about the politization [sic] of the Civil Rights Division. I believe that one of the most detrimental ways to politicize the enforcement process in the Voting Section is to enforce the provisions of the Voting Rights Act only for the protection of certain racial or ethnic minorities; or to take the position that the Voting Section is not going to enforce certain provision [sic] of any of the voting statutes the Voting Section has the responsibility to enforce. Such decisions carry with them obvious, enormous implications for partisan political struggles.

Well that seems to be what’s going on here — made-up rules and politics run rampant in the Justice Department. Not what the Obami promised, is it?

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