The Obama Justice Department can put an end to the scandal surrounding the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case. All Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. would have to do is allow members of his Voting Rights Section to answer a few simple questions under oath, without waiving a single legal privilege.
On Friday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights approved two letters to Mr. Holder. Both ask, again, for more cooperation than the Justice Department has provided for 16 months. The commission is seeking information about an alleged “broad culture of hostility to race-neutral enforcement of the civil rights laws; a pattern of harassment and intimidation against those who work on suits in which the defendants are racial minorities; and instructions from a political appointee that basic voting rights laws will not be enforced against racial minorities during this administration.”
On the Black Panther case, the department has made stunningly expansive claims that a “deliberative process” privilege obviates the need for a transparent administration, but “instructions from a political appointee” carry no such privilege. They don’t involve discussions about how and whether to prosecute specific cases but instead pertain to broad policy pronouncements. No valid legal argument could claim such policy choices are exempt from disclosure to an independent commission, Congress or the public.
Respected Justice lawyers J. Christian Adams (now in private practice) and Christopher Coates testified under oath that Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes told employees of the Voting Rights Section that the department would not enforce certain portions of voting laws. Mr. Coates said Ms. Fernandes told staff in September 2009, “the Obama administration was only interested in bringing traditional types of [Voting Rights Act] Section 2 cases” - meaning only those that protected minorities, not ones that protect whites.
According to Mr. Coates and Mr. Adams, Ms. Fernandes told staffers at a November 2009 lunch meeting, “the Obama administration was not interested” in enforcing the part of the national “Motor Voter” law requiring states to remove the names of dead people and felons from their voting rolls. Mr. Coates further testified that when he wrote a memo recommending the department act against eight states for failure to abide by this law, the Holder team ignored it. To this day, Justice has taken no public action against these states.
This controversy is about the integrity of the voting process, which is the heart of our constitutional republic. Mr. Holder would serve the public interest by permitting Ms. Fernandes to testify under oath and clear her name, if she has been slandered. Allowing testimony from other lawyers present at those meetings could help clear up any misunderstanding about the policies the Obama administration is pursuing. If the attorney general continues to stonewall transparency, it looks like he’s hiding something.