The Obama administration is terminally confused about the role of local law enforcement. Or worse, it's purposely hypocritical.
In one case, the administration argues that the federal government should defer to a local cop who is untrained in federal law and doesn't attempt to enforce it. In another case, it says a state may not enable local cops to enforce the exact provisions of federal law. In both cases, federal law goes unenforced. Yet the administration claims completely contradictory justifications for nonenforcement: in the first, by deferring to local authority and in the second, by denying local authority.
The self-contradictory reasoning is powerful evidence of improperly politicized justice.
The cases at issue involve two of the Obama administration's least popular decisions. The first is a key part of the administration's abandonment of voter-intimidation charges involving members of the New Black Panther Party. The second is the president's excuse for trying to overturn Arizona's law cracking down on illegal immigration. Neither one makes sense.
From the Civil Rights Commission's report last week on the voter-intimidation case, here's what Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said in written testimony about why the Justice Department dropped charges against Black Panther Jerry Jackson: "The Department placed significant weight on the response of the law enforcement first responders to the Philadelphia polling place on Election Day. A report of the local police officer who responded to the scene ... indicates that the officer interviewed Mr. Jackson, confirmed that he in fact was a certified poll watcher, and concluded that his actions did not warrant his removal from the premises."
Fine: The officer merely had no evidence Mr. Jackson had broken local laws. However, Mr. Jackson's status as poll watcher was irrelevant to the later federal charges. Poll watchers have no more right than anybody else - indeed, they probably have less excuse - to threaten or menace voters.
Justice Department attorneys, meanwhile, have a special duty to enforce federal voting and civil rights laws, which originally were passed specifically to override the intransigence of racist local law enforcement officials such as Birmingham, Ala.'s, infamous public-safety commissioner and Democratic National Committee member, T.E. "Bull" Connor. For Obama Justice officials to drop an already-won civil rights case because a local official hadn't considered civil rights laws is for them to undermine the very reason such federal laws exist.
Conversely, there is nothing wrong with local laws that mirror and effectively implement federal laws, as long as those local enforcement efforts don't contradict acts of Congress. As Arizona argued in its brief in the immigration case, the state's law only "adopts federal law as the policy of Arizona." The law "merely requires, in limited circumstances, that Arizona's law enforcement officers exercise their existing authority to communicate with the federal government regarding possible immigration violations."
The Obama administration's position appears to be that when the federal executive branch, "in the exercise of discretion ... may decide not to apply a specific sanction" otherwise specified in federal law, a state is somehow forbidden to adopt the federal law's own standard.
Under the Arizona case, a state may not instruct its officers to enforce federal law, but with the Black Panther case, the feds will drop all penalties if a local officer doesn't take it upon himself to enforce federal law. The local official has discretion - except where he doesn't. As a legal standard, this is nothing but mush. When the law is mush, pure politics rules - and that's how the Obama administration likes it.
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