The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last month propounded interrogatories and document requests to the Justice Department seeking answers as to why the New Black Panther Party case of voter intimidation was dismissed, who was involved, what outside groups participated in the decision, and what this portends for the enforcement of federal civil rights laws. The Justice Department has responded, I have learned.
In a letter to the commission’s chairman, Joseph Hunt, director of the Federal Programs Branch, contends that the department is limited in what it can provide out of concern for its “deliberative processes” and so as not to “undermine its mission.” He doesn’t invoke “executive privilege” per se, but he does assert attorney-client privilege (which some legal gurus tell me doesn’t really “work” between government entities and agencies as a valid objection).
Although the answers largely consist of boilerplate objections, the department does argue that “career attorneys” with more than 60 years of experience made the call to dump the case and that an injunction was obtained against one individual defendant who actually brandished a weapon. Despite the work of the trial team (which sources inform me had ample factual and legal grounds for bringing the case against additional defendants), the Justice Department now says that unnamed career attorneys determined that it should drop the case against those additional defendants. And, of course, the response says politics played no role in the decision. Asked whether the No. 3 man in the Justice Department, Thomas Perrelli, was involved in the decision, as the Washington Times reported, the Justice Department provided no answer, only series of objections. Likewise, the most transparent administration in history — or so we are told — declines to provide the names of those career attorneys who were the decision makers. And at least for now, the Justice Department is not coughing up the names of civil rights groups that may have encouraged them to drop the case against the additional defendants.
In short, the commission is being stiffed. The Obama administration isn’t explaining anything to anyone, but the commission, not to be deterred, is nevertheless plunging forward. A public hearing at which witnesses are to be called has now been noticed for February 12. At the commission’s next meeting, this Friday, witnesses may be selected. Meanwhile, tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee will take up Rep. Frank Wolf’s Resolution No. 894, seeking to direct ”the Attorney General to transmit to the House of Representatives all information in the Attorney General’s possession relating to the decision to dismiss United States v. New Black Panther Party.” Well, that’s going nowhere, but it will be interesting to hear liberals – who fancy themselves defenders of civil rights – explain why they don’t want to find out what the Justice Department was up to when it declined to prosecute all the defendants who participated in an egregious case of voter intimidation.
For now the Obama team continues its favorite modus operandi — not telling anyone anything about what it does. After all, they won the election, right? And this is what “de-politicizing” the administration of justice looks like. Who knew?