The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wants Attorney General H. Holder Jr., to allow Justice Department employees to testify in its investigation of “deep-seated and shockingly common attitudes favoring racially-selective enforcement of the law” within the department’s Civil Rights Division.
The request is outlined in a letter to be delivered Tuesday to Mr. Holder, following a 5-1 vote Friday by the commission, seeking additional testimony and documents in its investigation of the department’s handling of the New Black Panther Party case.
“Since June 2009, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has sought information from the Department of Justice, much of which the department refused to provide despite its statutory obligation to ‘cooperate fully’ with such commission requests,” the letter says. “Our original aim was to determine the reasons for and implications of DOJ’s dismissal of most of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation lawsuit and its narrow injunction against the remaining defendant.
“Our current focus is on the following systemic issue: the growing evidence of a culture of hostility in the Civil Rights Division to the race-neutral enforcement of the civil rights laws that may involve both supervisory attorneys and some of your political appointees,” it says.
The Justice Department has ordered employees subpoenaed by the commission for testimony to refuse to appear and has offered what the commission has called “questionable and sweeping privilege claims” in refusing to turn over documents sought as part of the probe.
“Notwithstanding that interference, the commission has heard from eyewitnesses detailed allegations of malfeasance in the Civil Rights Division, which are at war with its core mission,” the letter says, noting the testimony of Christopher Coates, former chief of the voting rights section, and J. Christian Adams, lead prosecutor in the New Black Panther case.
Mr. Coates testified Sept. 24 in defiance of the Justice Department prohibition that his supervisors said they were not interested in pursuing Voting Rights Act accusations against minorities who harass white voters. He said many within the Civil Rights Division “believe, incorrectly but vehemently, that enforcement of the VRA should not be extended to white voters but should be limited to protecting racial, ethnic and language minorities.”
Mr. Coates has since been reassigned as an assistant U.S. attorney in South Carolina.
Mr. Adams, who left the department, testified July 6 that Justice Department officials instructed Civil Rights Division attorneys to ignore cases that involved black defendants and white victims. He said that “over and over and over again” the department showed “hostility” toward those cases.
He said the department had “abetted wrongdoing and abandoned law-abiding citizens.”
The Justice Department has said it is “committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of the federal laws that prohibit voter intimidation.”
The Civil Rights Commission, in its letter, said testimony and affidavits it has received suggest “a broad culture of hostility to race-neutral enforcement of the civil rights laws,” and asked Mr. Holder for “a thorough investigation and specific confirmation, refutation or detailed explanations … that the laws are properly enforced without regard to race.”
In its letter, the commission also asked Mr. Holder:
• To waive any purported privilege that might apply to the commission’s requests and promptly supply all the documents, e-mails and other material that have been withheld.
• To instruct Mr. Coates, Mr. Adams and other current or former employees who may come forward with similar information or accounts of malfeasance that they may testify freely.
• To instruct all other department employees the commission may subpoena to cooperate fully by turning over all responsive documents and testifying without restraint.
A civil complaint had been filed in the New Black Panther Party case by the voting rights section in January 2009 in Philadelphia after two of its members in black berets, black combat boots, black shirts and black jackets purportedly intimidated voters with racial insults, slurs and a nightstick. A third party member was accused of managing, directing and endorsing their behavior. The incident was captured on videotape.
Four months later, the Justice Department dropped the charges, saying “the facts and the law did not support pursuing” them.