The Washington Times is reporting today that the career chief of the Voting Section at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, Christopher Coates, is being removed and sent to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charleston, South Carolina, for 18 months.
This is significant for many reasons, but specifically because he was the chief of the Voting Section when it investigated the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party and because he has been subpoenaed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Justice Department is defying federal law by refusing to allow him to testify about the investigation, which necessarily includes reviewing details about the order he received from higher ups to dismiss the case after the Department had already won by default.
The Commission is also investigating the unwarranted and unsubstantiated claims made by the political head of the Civil Rights Division, Thomas Perez, that Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure required dismissal. Perez’s action impugned the professionalism of the career lawyers in the case.
I will be writing more about this soon. But for now, there are two things to keep in mind about this transfer.
First of all, there is no lawyer with more experience in voting cases in the entire Civil Rights Division than Chris Coates. So any future claim by the Holder Justice Department that they want to put someone with more experience into this position would be entirely bogus.
The second thing to keep in mind is that under 42 U.S.C. § 1975, the subpoena power of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is limited to within 100 miles of where a witness “is found or resides or is domiciled or transacts business.” Living and working in Charleston, South Carolina may very conveniently move Coates outside the subpoena range of the Civil Rights Commission. Given the Justice Department’s adamant refusal to cooperate with both the Commission and several congressmen who have been trying to investigate the dismissal of the New Black Panther case, this seems like quite a “coincidence.” Indeed, given this amazing coincidence, Justice will have to contend with the lingering doubts that he was moved because, as the Times story says of his work ethic, he would “apply federal civil rights laws in a fair and neutral manner,” not an ideologically and politically biased basis.