Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine should finish one major piece of business before his announced retirement next month: the investigation into Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
On Sept. 12, Mr. Fine announced that while he’s precluded by law from investigating a “specific piece of litigation” such as the Black Panther voter-intimidation case, “we do have the authority to conduct [a] broader program review … regarding the Civil Rights Division’s enforcement of voting rights laws.” Mr. Fine vowed to review “whether the Voting Section has enforced the civil rights laws in a non-discriminatory manner.” Substantial testimony, backed by a record of official inaction on whole classes of cases, indicates the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has refused cases for racial or political reasons.
Longtime Justice lawyer Christopher Coates testified under oath that many in the Civil Rights Division exhibit a “deep-seated opposition to the equal enforcement of the Voting Rights Act against racial minorities and for the protection of white voters who had been discriminated against.” He said Julie Fernandes, deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, made clear at a Voting Rights Section meeting that the Obama administration wouldn’t pursue voting rights cases involving black perpetrators. At another meeting, she said the administration wouldn’t enforce part of another law that called for states to remove ineligible names - such as dead people and incarcerated felons - from voter rolls.
When Mr. Coates asked permission to enforce the latter provision against eight states in noncompliance with the law, Obama political appointees withheld approval. Fellow whistle-blower J. Christian Adams reported that 16 states appeared to be ignoring the provision, but Mr. Holder’s team took no action. Four additional former Justice officials have filed affidavits reporting that a preference for race-based enforcement is rife within the Civil Rights Division.
These allegations aren’t difficult to scrutinize. Interviewing every person at the section meetings would clarify whether Ms. Fernandes made the troubling statements. The record needs to be examined to see if the department did refuse to act against states failing to clear their voter lists and if there is a paper trail revealing Mr. Coates’ attempts to pursue those cases.
The law requires depoliticized, race-neutral justice. Mr. Fine should delay retirement until he can show whether or not that is what America is getting from Mr. Holder’s Justice Department.