Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should answer one key question -- Will the Justice Department fight against civil rights violations of white people as avidly as those against people of color?
This is the subtext of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission's investigation into why the Justice Department dropped an already-won voter-intimidation case against agents of the New Black Panther Party. Credit for cogently connecting the dots on this goes to Jennifer Rubin, a labor lawyer and D.C. editor of Pajamas Media, in a column published on Tuesday. Ms. Rubin, whose reporting record has proven that her sources are good, quoted an insider who claims that top Justice Department officials "openly and proudly advocate for a different standard" for protecting black citizens to a greater degree than white ones.
More on the commission's investigation in a moment. First, we note that after her column appeared, we stumbled over a story from 1996 that tends to confirm this interpretation of Mr. Holder's approach. Oddly enough, the story concerned a case in which one of Mr. Holder's chief critics was Malik Zulu Shabazz, one of the Black Panther defendants for whom the more recent charges were dropped. The case involved an assault on a white Washington Times reporter by a charter-school principal who is black. Back then, Mr. Shabazz accused Mr. Holder, who is black, of a sort of racial treason for prosecuting the black principal. "We are headed for a political, cultural and economic race war in the city of Washington," Mr. Shabazz warned in reaction to the incident.
Mr. Holder told The Washington Post in 1996 that his answer was to pull out a paper he always carries in his wallet, containing a quote he admires that says a black man's "race defines him more particularly than anything else. Black people have a common cause that requires attending to." In case that is not disconcerting enough in its own right, Mr. Holder elaborated: "It really says that ... I am not the tall U.S. Attorney, I am not the thin U.S. Attorney. I am the black U.S. Attorney.... There's a common cause that bonds the black U.S. Attorney with the black criminal or the black doctor with the black homeless person."
Now back in the good graces of Mr. Shabazz, Mr. Holder bragged to the New York Times in a Sept. 1 story that his department would return to a focus on cases like those involving "disparate impacts" on minorities. At the same time the Justice Department dismissed the Black Panther case, its officials were bragging about ramped-up enforcement of laws against racial "hate crimes."
Already this year, Mr. Holder allowed paid time off for Justice Department employees to attend a Black History speech by Democratic activist Donna Brazile, and he has derided America as a "nation of cowards" on racial matters. This is the same Eric Holder who in 2000 threatened the Los Angeles Police Department with a consent decree to enforce racial quotas in arrests and hiring despite no evidence of widespread abuses.
It is in that dim light that the "concept paper" for the Civil Rights Commission's new study specifically asks if "the Department has changed its interpretation" of civil rights laws in a way that "might increase intimidating conduct." Put another way, does Mr. Holder believe that "the common cause that bonds the black U.S. Attorney with the black criminal" is stronger than the cause of equal justice under law? By the evidence so far, he might.