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EDITORIAL: Black Panther case: Red hot

Witness cites Obama team’s ‘hostility’ to the law

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Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez has an obligation to clean house at the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. That's clear after explosive new whistle-blower testimony under oath Friday in the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case, which triggers a pledge Mr. Perez made under oath on May 14. Failure to fire some officials and to radically revamp practices in the Civil Rights Division would represent clear dereliction of duty by Mr. Perez.

Friday's testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights came from much-decorated Justice Department veteran Christopher Coates, a hero of the civil rights legal community when he was a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. "The election of President Obama," he said, "brought to positions of influence and power with the Civil Rights Division many of the very people who had demonstrated hostility to the concept of equal enforcement of the Voting Rights Act."

Mr. Coates named names and gave numerous examples of how the division and its political supervisors refuse to enforce civil rights laws to protect white victims against black perpetrators. He said his supervisor, Loretta King, then serving in a political position as acting assistant attorney general, specifically forbade him from asking prospective employees if they would be willing to enforce civil rights laws in a race-neutral manner. Additionally, he testified that the department under Mr. Perez has refused to enforce federal law that requires states to remove ineligible voters - including dead people and incarcerated felons - from their voting rolls. Mr. Coates officially recommended a full year ago that the department enforce the law against at least eight states that were flagrantly noncompliant, but Mr. Perez and the Obama team ignored the issue.

All of this puts Mr. Perez, among others, in a bind. Not only is some of Mr. Perez's sworn testimony misleading, but his pledge to crack down against employees who act in a race-biased manner is being put to the test. On May 14, under questioning from Civil Rights Commissioner Todd Gaziano about employees making racialist nonenforcement statements and decisions, Mr. Perez said four different times that he would not put up with what he called "people of that ilk." Mr. Perez indignantly challenged Mr. Gaziano, "If you have such a statement, bring such a statement to our attention."

Mr. Coates now has confirmed sworn testimony from other witnesses that Mr. Perez's team did and continues to act in a race-biased manner. Mr. Coates swore that he told the same thing to Mr. Perez before Mr. Perez testified in May. Even before that, multiple press reports dating back to last September indicated this allegation of racialist nonenforcement of voting rights laws was a serious concern. Yet Mr. Perez seems to have questioned nobody about it, disciplined nobody over it or raised a finger to address the problem.

This broad issue of deliberately unequal enforcement of the law is the main point of the Black Panther investigation. The evidence points to racially unequal enforcement - and a dangerous abrogation of justice.

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