On May 14th, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a hearing to investigate the Justice Department’s decision to completely drop charges against the New Black Panther Party and two of its members for alleged voter intimidation in violation of the 1964 Voting Rights Act. The remaining defendant who wielded a billyclub at the polls on election day 2008 got a proverbial wink and a slap on the wrist that he shouldn’t do it again …at least not in the City of Philadelphia … for a few more years. The crux of the Commission’s investigation centers on why the Obama administration decided to drop and reduce the charges after the Bush administration had already won a default judgment against the defendants. During the hearing, Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez and Commissioner Todd Gaziano (who is also a colleague at Heritage) had the following exchange:
COMMISSIONER GAZIANO: If someone came to you and said that someone — someone in your Division, … a supervising attorney or a political appointee–made the statement that the voting rights laws should never be enforced against blacks or other racial minorities, you would investigate that report, wouldn’t you?
ASST. ATTY. GEN. PEREZ: I would take a look at the person who made the statement. I would take a look at the statement. And we would have a conversation about it.
COMMISSIONER GAZIANO: You would want to interview the people who were supposedly present when that statement was made, wouldn’t you?
ASST. ATTY. GEN. PEREZ: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER GAZIANO: Let me ask my final question. If we uncovered strong evidence that a current supervising attorney or political appointee senior in your Division made statements that this administration will never bring a voting rights case or, to this effect, will never bring a voting rights case against blacks or other minorities, I hope that you will seriously investigate. And I hope you agree that it would be highly relevant to this investigation and that we should have access to the witnesses to such a statement.
ASST. ATTY. GEN. PEREZ: If you have such a statement, bring such a statement to our attention.
Well, this past Tuesday, Commissioner Gaziano brought such statements to AAG Perez’s attention. In testimony before the commission, former Justice Department attorney Christian Adams said that Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes ordered: “Never bring another lawsuit against a black or other national minority, apparently no matter what they do.” Watch Commissioner Gaziano recount the testimony above.
So far, the Obama Justice Department has refused to allow any current DOJ employees like Julie Fernandes to testify before the Commission. Will they allow more transparency now?
There are many other justifiable lines of inquiry. For example, this January Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky asked:
The more the Obama administration fights the subpoenas from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and denies congressmen’s requests for answers concerning the inexplicable dismissal of the voter-intimidation case in Philadelphia against the New Black Panther Party (NBPP), the more reasonable people wonder what the administration has to hide. And so it is appropriate now to ask: What did the White House know and when did it know it?