Commentary Magazine


Topic: Civil Rights Commission

Democrats Not Interested in Voter Intimidation Case Scandal

The House Judiciary Committee took up a resolution forced by Rep. Frank Wolf, calling on the Justice Department to fork over information on its endless, secretive, and (sources with direct knowledge tell me) quite lackadaisical investigation of the Obama Justice Department’s decision to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case. As expected, the resolution was voted down on a party-line vote of 15-14. The House Democrats don’t really seem as though they need to know why the Justice Department wouldn’t enforce the law fully against all defendants (for whom the U.S. government had a default judgment in hand) who intimidated voters at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day, 2008. As Ranking Minority Leader Rep. Lamar Smith explained in his prepared remarks:

No facts had changed. No new evidence was uncovered. The only thing that did change is the political party in charge of the Justice Department. So why would the Obama Administration suddenly drop charges in a case that had effectively been won? It appears that the Justice Department gave a free pass to its political allies—one of the defendants against whom charges were dropped was a Democratic poll watcher. Despite continued requests from Congress, the Justice Department has refused to give any explanation for dropping the charges. The Department’s silence appears to be an admission of guilt. According to media reports, senior political appointees may have overridden the decision of career attorneys. The decision to dismiss charges against political allies who allegedly intimidated voters on Election Day 2008 reeks of political interference.

An observer at the hearing tells me that only Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee bothered to speak out against the motion, claiming that this was just an isolated incident of intimidation (is this a new standard for the enforcement of civil rights?) and going as far as to defend the New Black Panther Party as a good and honorable organization. (I suppose there may be some in the Obama Justice Department who are sympathetic to this view.) She thinks the Obama Justice Department will prosecute anyone guilty of voter intimidation. (Except in this case?)

Republicans took a different position. Rep. Trent Franks wanted to know what the Obama team is hiding and, contrary to his colleague, labeled the New Black Panther Party as a racist organization. Rep. James Sensenbrenner blasted the Justice Deaprtments invocation of privilege as reason to refuse cooperation and said Congress needs to press for answers. (That’s not happening unless the House changes control in November.) Other Republicans emphasized the egregious nature of the case, which was there for all to see on video tape, and went after the recent testimony of Civil Rights chief Thomas Perez, who claimed there was no interference with career lawyers.

This is what passes for congressional oversight these days. As Rep. Smith says, there are certainly grounds for probing further:

Yesterday, 24 hours before this markup, the Justice Department provided the Committee with responses to the Civil Rights Commission’s information requests. These comprise more of the same non-responsive replies the Justice Department provided the Commission and Congress earlier this year. The Department refused to answer, either wholly or in part, 31 of the Commission’s 49 written questions.

The Department is still either unwilling or unable to answer one simple question: what changed between January 2009 and May 2009 to justify walking away from a case of blatant voter intimidation?

But don’t hold your breath. The Democrats who railed against Alberto Gonzales and insisted on investigation after investigation during the Bush administration to uncover some alleged politicization of the administration of justice are now silent. Trust the Obama team, they say. It seems as though if anything is to be learned about this case, it will come from the efforts of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights or those within the Justice Department who are offended by Obama political appointees’ meddling in what should have been a slam-dunk victory for the U.S. government in enforcing civil rights laws.

The House Judiciary Committee took up a resolution forced by Rep. Frank Wolf, calling on the Justice Department to fork over information on its endless, secretive, and (sources with direct knowledge tell me) quite lackadaisical investigation of the Obama Justice Department’s decision to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case. As expected, the resolution was voted down on a party-line vote of 15-14. The House Democrats don’t really seem as though they need to know why the Justice Department wouldn’t enforce the law fully against all defendants (for whom the U.S. government had a default judgment in hand) who intimidated voters at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day, 2008. As Ranking Minority Leader Rep. Lamar Smith explained in his prepared remarks:

No facts had changed. No new evidence was uncovered. The only thing that did change is the political party in charge of the Justice Department. So why would the Obama Administration suddenly drop charges in a case that had effectively been won? It appears that the Justice Department gave a free pass to its political allies—one of the defendants against whom charges were dropped was a Democratic poll watcher. Despite continued requests from Congress, the Justice Department has refused to give any explanation for dropping the charges. The Department’s silence appears to be an admission of guilt. According to media reports, senior political appointees may have overridden the decision of career attorneys. The decision to dismiss charges against political allies who allegedly intimidated voters on Election Day 2008 reeks of political interference.

An observer at the hearing tells me that only Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee bothered to speak out against the motion, claiming that this was just an isolated incident of intimidation (is this a new standard for the enforcement of civil rights?) and going as far as to defend the New Black Panther Party as a good and honorable organization. (I suppose there may be some in the Obama Justice Department who are sympathetic to this view.) She thinks the Obama Justice Department will prosecute anyone guilty of voter intimidation. (Except in this case?)

Republicans took a different position. Rep. Trent Franks wanted to know what the Obama team is hiding and, contrary to his colleague, labeled the New Black Panther Party as a racist organization. Rep. James Sensenbrenner blasted the Justice Deaprtments invocation of privilege as reason to refuse cooperation and said Congress needs to press for answers. (That’s not happening unless the House changes control in November.) Other Republicans emphasized the egregious nature of the case, which was there for all to see on video tape, and went after the recent testimony of Civil Rights chief Thomas Perez, who claimed there was no interference with career lawyers.

This is what passes for congressional oversight these days. As Rep. Smith says, there are certainly grounds for probing further:

Yesterday, 24 hours before this markup, the Justice Department provided the Committee with responses to the Civil Rights Commission’s information requests. These comprise more of the same non-responsive replies the Justice Department provided the Commission and Congress earlier this year. The Department refused to answer, either wholly or in part, 31 of the Commission’s 49 written questions.

The Department is still either unwilling or unable to answer one simple question: what changed between January 2009 and May 2009 to justify walking away from a case of blatant voter intimidation?

But don’t hold your breath. The Democrats who railed against Alberto Gonzales and insisted on investigation after investigation during the Bush administration to uncover some alleged politicization of the administration of justice are now silent. Trust the Obama team, they say. It seems as though if anything is to be learned about this case, it will come from the efforts of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights or those within the Justice Department who are offended by Obama political appointees’ meddling in what should have been a slam-dunk victory for the U.S. government in enforcing civil rights laws.

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The Black Panther Cover-Up

The Justice Department has ordered its career trial lawyers who have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights not to appear to provide testimony or give documents in the investigation of DOJ’s dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case. The Washington Times explains:

Joseph H. Hunt, director of the Justice Department’s Federal Programs Branch, ordered the lawyers’ silence in a letter to the attorney for J. Christian Adams, the lead attorney for the department in the New Black Panther case. The letter said “well-established” and “lawful” Justice Department guidelines prohibited Mr. Adams’ cooperation in the commission probe.

How a personnel guideline can supersede the force of a subpoena issued by the commission remains a mystery. The report notes:

Todd Gaziano, a nonpartisan member of the Civil Rights Commission, challenged the Justice Department’s ruling, saying that the regulations cited do not apply and that the commission is “duly authorized by statute to review and report on enforcement activities of the Justice Department and other similar agencies.”

“Our job places a premium on our role as a watchdog of federal and state enforcement agencies, and to that end, Congress has instructed all agencies to comply fully with our requests,” he said. … [Gaziano] said the Justice Department “had it exactly backwards” when it suggested that there could be negative consequences for those who comply with the commission’s subpoenas. He said a lawyer cannot refuse to comply with a subpoena he knows to be lawful.

A source tells me that Adams was “not quite” threatened with the loss of his job, but plainly he and his colleague, Christopher Coates, the voting rights section chief, are being strong-armed to disregard a lawful subpoena. This is abject lawlessness, the sort of executive imperiousness that, if practiced by a Republican administration, would bring howls of protest from Congress, the media, and liberal lawyers’ groups. The Obama Justice Department doesn’t want to respond to a subpoena because they have a personnel rule? Next thing you know they’ll be claiming executive privilege for a social secretary. Oh yes, that’s right …

Now as for the merits, the Justice Department spokesman continues to spew the administration line that the voter-intimidation case brought by DOJ’s career lawyers was not supported by the law and the facts. But of course the lawyers disagree, claiming that their best legal judgment was overridden by political appointees without justification. They have a story to tell, with documents, firsthand accounts of meetings and conversations and e-mails with the political appointees’ own remarks, which they say will substantiate their position. But the Justice Department won’t let any of that out, nor will it say what specifically about the case lacked factual or legal support.

It’s not clear where we go from here. The Justice Department lawyers may appear anyway, testing whether the Obama administration would go as far as to fire them for complying with a subpoena. A deal might be negotiated between DOJ (which is apparently concerned that something quite distasteful may emerge) and the commission to provide some portion of the requested information. Or Congress might wake up, fulfill its obligation to conduct some real oversight of the Obama administration (which once again is telling us that the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to the White House), and actually hold a hearing on the matter.

The crew that excoriated the “politicization” of justice is now in a furious fight to cover their tracks and prevent career lawyers from blowing the whistle on Obama political appointees who reached down to pull the plug on a serious case of voter intimidation. The Obami need not be accountable or “transparent” to anyone, they would have us believe. We’ll see if that proves to be a winning position.

The Justice Department has ordered its career trial lawyers who have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights not to appear to provide testimony or give documents in the investigation of DOJ’s dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case. The Washington Times explains:

Joseph H. Hunt, director of the Justice Department’s Federal Programs Branch, ordered the lawyers’ silence in a letter to the attorney for J. Christian Adams, the lead attorney for the department in the New Black Panther case. The letter said “well-established” and “lawful” Justice Department guidelines prohibited Mr. Adams’ cooperation in the commission probe.

How a personnel guideline can supersede the force of a subpoena issued by the commission remains a mystery. The report notes:

Todd Gaziano, a nonpartisan member of the Civil Rights Commission, challenged the Justice Department’s ruling, saying that the regulations cited do not apply and that the commission is “duly authorized by statute to review and report on enforcement activities of the Justice Department and other similar agencies.”

“Our job places a premium on our role as a watchdog of federal and state enforcement agencies, and to that end, Congress has instructed all agencies to comply fully with our requests,” he said. … [Gaziano] said the Justice Department “had it exactly backwards” when it suggested that there could be negative consequences for those who comply with the commission’s subpoenas. He said a lawyer cannot refuse to comply with a subpoena he knows to be lawful.

A source tells me that Adams was “not quite” threatened with the loss of his job, but plainly he and his colleague, Christopher Coates, the voting rights section chief, are being strong-armed to disregard a lawful subpoena. This is abject lawlessness, the sort of executive imperiousness that, if practiced by a Republican administration, would bring howls of protest from Congress, the media, and liberal lawyers’ groups. The Obama Justice Department doesn’t want to respond to a subpoena because they have a personnel rule? Next thing you know they’ll be claiming executive privilege for a social secretary. Oh yes, that’s right …

Now as for the merits, the Justice Department spokesman continues to spew the administration line that the voter-intimidation case brought by DOJ’s career lawyers was not supported by the law and the facts. But of course the lawyers disagree, claiming that their best legal judgment was overridden by political appointees without justification. They have a story to tell, with documents, firsthand accounts of meetings and conversations and e-mails with the political appointees’ own remarks, which they say will substantiate their position. But the Justice Department won’t let any of that out, nor will it say what specifically about the case lacked factual or legal support.

It’s not clear where we go from here. The Justice Department lawyers may appear anyway, testing whether the Obama administration would go as far as to fire them for complying with a subpoena. A deal might be negotiated between DOJ (which is apparently concerned that something quite distasteful may emerge) and the commission to provide some portion of the requested information. Or Congress might wake up, fulfill its obligation to conduct some real oversight of the Obama administration (which once again is telling us that the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to the White House), and actually hold a hearing on the matter.

The crew that excoriated the “politicization” of justice is now in a furious fight to cover their tracks and prevent career lawyers from blowing the whistle on Obama political appointees who reached down to pull the plug on a serious case of voter intimidation. The Obami need not be accountable or “transparent” to anyone, they would have us believe. We’ll see if that proves to be a winning position.

Read Less




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