EDITORIAL: Justice stiffs Civil Rights Commission

Lawlessness stems from Black Panther case

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The hypocrisy of the Obama Justice Department has reached staggering proportions on a host of issues stemming from the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case. Such systemic evasion of justice breeds lawlessness.

The Justice Department’s latest thumb in the eye of its critics came in an Aug. 11 letter from Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Mr. Perez told the commission that he will continue blocking testimony from veteran civil rights attorney Christopher Coates because Mr. Coates‘ stationing in South Carolina since mid-January means he is not “the appropriate witness to testify regarding current [Civil Rights] Division policies.”

There are two immediate problems with this contention. First, Mr. Coates is in South Carolina only because Mr. Perez transferred him there to remove him from the commission’s subpoena jurisdiction. The commission subpoenaed Mr. Coates in November, before the move to South Carolina, but Mr. Perez ignored the law requiring him to honor commission subpoenas.

Second, Mr. Perez’s own actions belie his supposed concern with contemporaneity. Consider that the commission had never asked Mr. Perez to testify for the simple reason that he wasn’t even at the department when Mr. Coates was overruled and the Black Panther cases were abandoned. Yet Mr. Perez insisted on going to the commission in the stead of Mr. Coates and fellow attorney J. Christian Adams rather than sending department officials such as Thomas J. Perrelli, Steven H. Rosenbaum and Loretta King, all of whom actually participated in the decision to drop the cases.

So why is it OK for Mr. Perez to speak definitively of things that happened before he arrived at the department but not OK for Mr. Coates to testify about department policies that purportedly continued after he left the Civil Rights Division? Mr. Coates‘ relevance is indeed far more pressing than Mr. Perez’s because he was said to be a direct witness to statements of the policies in question, which reportedly began before he was transferred. Mr. Perez, on the other hand, cannot claim to be a witness to anything. He’s just the designated cover guy.

Of larger importance, however, is that by law, Mr. Perez has no business choosing who testifies to the commission. That is the commission’s prerogative. The commission, by law, has explicit power to issue subpoenas, and the law mandates that “all federal agencies shall cooperate fully with the commission.” The Justice Department has not complied. Mr. Perez is breaking the law.

At issue here, as the commission has made clear from the start, is not just the handling of the Black Panther case, but whether the Justice Department has adopted a broader policy of enforcing (or not enforcing) the law based on racial and political considerations rather than the merits. Mr. Adams has sworn under oath that Mr. Coates and other current and former department officials would likely testify in support of this allegation. Mr. Perez’s vague assurances to the contrary, while blocking the testimony of anybody else, are not an aid to the commission’s investigation. They are an obstruction of justice.

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