New Black Panther Report Confirms: Politics Over Law at Obama Justice Department

Hans von Spakovsky /

The final version of the Interim Report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the investigation of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case was released yesterday and is available on the commission’s website. Get it while it’s hot.

With the expiration of the terms of several commissioners, new appointees by President Obama and others doing the administration’s bidding will soon control a majority of the commission seats.  It seems unlikely the new majority will continue the investigation into the real reason for the dismissal of the NBBP lawsuit.

Given the raucous and obstreperous behavior of the Democratic commissioners, with the unfortunate help of Vice Chairman Abigail Thernstrom, to stymie the investigation and protect the Obama administration, it is also almost a sure bet that nothing further will be done to investigate the sworn testimony about the hostility to race neutral enforcement of civil rights laws at Justice that the Commission uncovered, or the unlawful stonewalling by the Department of the Commission’s investigation.

The Commission’s report is devastating, particularly the statements of Commissioners Todd Gaziano (with whom I work at Heritage), Gail Heriot, and Peter Kirsanow, and their rebuttals to the nonsubstantive, almost comical dissent of Democratic Commissioners Michael Yaki and Arlan Melendez.  Also worth reading is a post on the report of the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin., as well as comments by former Justice Department lawyer J. Christian Adams.

As Commissioner Gaziano says in his statement that is included in the 210-page report, the Commission’s investigation was about a possible cover up of a:

racial double standard in law enforcement in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. The usual Washington refrain is that the cover-up is always worse than the original offense.  But in this case, the underlying problem may be as damning as the wrongful cover-up – and possibly worse….[Justice Department lawyers testified] that there is a pervasive hostility to the race-neutral enforcement of the civil rights laws….Such a racial double standard in law enforcement would be at war with the very notion of a federal Civil Rights Division devoted to the equal protection of the laws.  Yet, the Department of Justice is unquestionably hostile to any serious investigation of these allegations.

The dissenting commissioners make the false claim that there was no evidence to support any of the allegations, disregarding and ignoring the sworn testimony of two Justice Department whistleblowers and numerous other witnesses.  But as Jennifer Rubin succinctly points out for the Washington Post, the report shows that”

1) [T]he New Black Panther Party case brought by career Justice Department employees was meritorious on the law and the facts; 2) there is voluminous evidence of the Obama administration’s political interference in the prosecution of the New Black Panther Party case; 3) there is ample evidence that the Obama administration directed Justice Department employees not to bring cases against minority defendants who violated voting rights laws or to enforce a provision requiring that states and localities clean up their voting rolls to prevent fraud; 4) the Justice Department stonewalled efforts to investigate the case; and 5) vice chairman Abigail Thernstrom has, for reasons not entirely clear, ignored the evidence and tried to undermine the commission’s work.

One of the most intriguing pieces of evidence concerned Obama’s political appointee, Julie Fernandes, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, who ordered career staff not to bring any Voting Rights Act cases against minority defendants, no matter how egregious their violations of the law, and no cases under a part of the National Voter Registration Act that requires states to clean up their voter registration rolls.  Vice Chairman Thernstrom expressed her doubt that Fernandes would be foolish enough to say such a thing publicly at Justice, despite two different witnesses confirming it.  Yet as Commissioner Heriot points out, while employed by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights before she even got to the Holder Justice Department, Fernandes specifically told a “progressive/liberal activist news service” that the Voting Rights Act “was written to protect black people.”

Commissioner Peter Kirsanow summarizes what this whole report is all about when he says that it “raises troubling questions that strike at the heart of DOJ’s fidelity to the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.”  With regard to the Department’s lack of cooperation with the Commission’s investigation and its refusal to comply with subpoenas for witnesses and documents, Kirsanow expresses his frustration at a Justice Department that “tried to cultivate the public appearance of cooperation,” while doing the exact opposite: “engaging in a degree of stonewalling and obstruction inexplicable for an agency professing clean hands.”

The worst thing about this report is the way in which the dissenting commissioners engage in McCarthyite-tactics to convince the public to discount the findings by personally attacking the career lawyers from Justice, Chris Coates and Christian Adams, who came forward to testify, defying the orders of their superiors at the Justice Department.  Because these commissioners are unable to raise any valid questions about the substance of the critical report, they malign, disparage, and belittle these courageous whistleblowers.  It is a prime example of just how much into the gutter some people in Washington are willing to go for partisan, political gain.

But read the report for yourself and make your own judgment – because it probably won’t be highlighted by the mainstream media, which has in large part studiously ignored (with the exception of some belated Washington Post print stories – and Jennifer Rubin’s outstanding new blog column) one of the worst examples of lawlessness and politicalization of the law enforcement duties of the Justice Department that has ever occurred.  But even that may change if House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith conducts hearings into the matter.  Stay tuned.