The story of how the Black Panther voter intimidation case came to be dismissed is becoming more clear. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but I’ll highlight a few key points after the jump.
Justice Department officials were ordered not to cooperate with the investigation being conducted by the US Commission on Civil Rights:
On June 4, J. Christian Adams, a veteran lawyer in Justice’s voting section and a key member of the trial team, resigned. His reasons were spelled out in a letter that also noted that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which was investigating the dismissal, had subpoenaed him and Coates, but their superiors, in violation of federal law, had ordered them not to testify.
Administration claims that no political appointees were involved are false:
From the onset, Justice has denied that any political appointees were involved in the decision to dismiss the case. This line was repeated in multiple letters to and face-to-face meetings with Republican representatives Frank Wolf and Lamar Smith and in statements to the media. We now know that this is incorrect. In interrogatory answers supplied to the civil rights commission, the department acknowledged that Attorney General Eric Holder was briefed on the decision to dismiss the case and that the number three man in Justice, Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, was consulted as well. Katsas testified, “Certainly DoJ’s decision to abandon all claims against the party, Malik Shabazz, and Mr. Jackson [the second polling place intimidator], despite their refusal to even defend the case, would have qualified as important enough for the leadership of the Civil Rights Division to raise with [Perrelli].” The same is true of the decision to seek only a narrow injunction against the billy club-wielding defendant. He notes that the filing of the case may have been routine, but the decision to dismiss it was so extraordinary that someone of Perrelli’s rank must certainly have played an “active role.”
Many DOJ attorneys feel that civil rights laws are a one way street:
While the interference by political appointees in the NBPP case has been egregious, there is a critical issue with implications far beyond this single case: Whether the attorneys who populate the civil rights division of the Justice Department believe that civil rights laws exist only to protect minorities from discrimination and intimidation by whites. In a farewell address to his colleagues before his reassignment to a U.S. attorney’s office, Coates spoke about this widespread sentiment and why it was antithetical to the department’s mission to seek equal enforcement of federal laws.
Former voting rights attorneys confirm that the belief is omnipresent in the Justice Department. DoJ attorneys openly criticized the Panther case, objecting not to any lack of evidence or to the legal arguments but to the notion that any discrimination case should be filed against black defendants. There are instances of attorneys refusing to work on cases against minority defendants. In 2005, for example, Coates pursued, filed, and won a case (upheld on appeal to the Fifth Circuit in 2009) of egregious voter discrimination by black officials in Noxubee County, Mississippi. Colleagues criticized Coates for filing the case and refused to work on it.