EXCLUSIVE: Right-wing commission to vote on flawed New Black Panthers report

Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

The conservative-dominated U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will vote Friday on an interim report that omits critical evidence disproving allegations that the Obama administration refuses to enforce voting-rights laws against racial minorities, according to Media Matters' analysis of a copy of the report we obtained.

Drawing heavily on reports from Fox News, The Washington Times, and The Weekly Standard, the commission's draft report advances the discredited claims of right-wing activists that the Obama Justice Department has a "hostility" toward enforcing voting-right laws in cases where the alleged perpetrators are racial minorities.

The report is the result of the commission's oft-criticized investigation into the Justice Department's handling of voter-intimidation charges that were filed against members of the New Black Panther Party for their actions on Election Day in 2008. After the Bush administration made the decision to pursue civil charges, rather than criminal charges, the Obama administration obtained an injunction against the New Black Panther videotaped holding a nightstick outside a Philadelphia polling station. The DOJ dropped additional charges against the party.

The 123-page draft report echoes the right-wing media's manufactured scandal by focusing on politicized allegations, while ignoring testimony and evidence that directly refutes those allegations.

Missing from the report, for example, is any mention of actual actions taken by the Obama administration that clearly show it has enforced voting-rights laws when the alleged violators are racial minorities.

According to the draft, Christopher Coates and J. Christian Adams -- both of whom were connected to the politicization of the Justice Department during the Bush administration -- "testified that the decisions in the NBPP case should not be viewed in isolation; that it needed to be viewed in the context of overall hostility by many in the Civil Rights Division to race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act."

As we have noted, in addition to obtaining the injunction against New Black Panther King Samir Shabazz, the Justice Department under Obama extended an injunction against Ike Brown and other black leaders in Noxubee County, Mississippi, based in part on concerns that they were seeking to discriminate against white voters.

While the commission purports to describe the U.S. v. Ike Brown case, it makes no mention of the fact that the DOJ under Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder actually moved to extend the penalties against Brown -- an action that wholly disproves the claim that the administration won't pursue voting rights cases against black defendants.

Moreover, while Justice Department officials have pointed to their work in the Ike Brown case to rebut claims that it is hostile to racially neutral enforcement of voting rights laws, the report goes so far as to as to selectively cite this very evidence presented before the Commission in a way that sidesteps that fact.

According to the report:

Without addressing the specific allegations of either Mr. Coates or Mr. Adams, the Department contends that it enforces the civil rights laws in a race-neutral fashion. In correspondence to the Commission, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez stated:

There should be no misunderstanding: the Civil Rights Division is firmly committed to the evenhanded application of the law, without regard to the race of the victims or perpetrators of unlawful behavior. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply untrue.

But it's in that exact letter -- which the commission claims does not address the allegations of race-based enforcement of voting rights laws -- that explicitly cites the Ike Brown case to address those allegations:

Our commitment to evenhanded enforcement of our civil rights laws extends to every part of the Division, and our work in the voting area is no exception. This commitment is evidenced by our ongoing work in Mississippi. There, the Division recently filed a Motion to prevent actions by defendants Ike Brown and the Noxubee County (Mississippi) Democratic Executive Committee on the grounds that the actions were motivated in part by racial animus against white voters.

The failure of the commission to address that fact underscores the concerns of Republican vice chairwoman Abigail Thernstrom, who has said the investigation is an effort on the part of conservatives on the commission to "topple" the Obama administration.

The commission further attempts to buttress the claims of Coates, a DOJ attorney, by ignoring testimony and evidence that undermine his claims.

According to the Commission, "Coates challenged many of the specific explanations provided by the Department to justify its reversal of the NBPP litigation. In addressing the Department's overall position, he posed the following hypothetical:

To understand the rationale of these articulated reasons for gutting this case, the Panther case, one only has to state the facts in the racial reverse. Assume that two members of the Ku Klux Klan, one of which lived in an apartment building that was being used as a polling place, showed up at the entrance in KKK regalia and that one of the Klansmen was carrying a billy stick. Further assume that the two Klansmen were yelling racial slurs at black voters, who were a minority of the people registered to vote at that particular polling place and that the Klansman was blocking ingress to the polling place. Assume further that a local policeman came on the scene and determined that the Klan with the billy club must leave but that the other Klansman could stay because he was a certified poll watcher for a local political party.

In those circumstances, ladies and gentlemen, does anyone seriously believe that the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights would contend that, on the basis of the facts and the law, the Civil Rights Division did not have a case under the Voting Rights Act against the hypothetical Klansman that I described because he resided in the apartment building where the polling place was located or because he was allowed to stay at the polling place by a local police officer because he was a poll watcher?

But the report ignores Coates' testimony that the Bush-era Justice Department did not pursue voter-intimidation allegations against armed members of the Minutemen who allegedly intimidated Hispanic voters in Arizona, because their guns were holstered:

We did research to find out that the legal -- the person was legally entitled to wear a pistol. If the pistol had been drawn, it would be a different set of facts. Those facts would be much more in favor of a violation. Anything that happens at a polling place that might keep voters from voting is a serious matter.

The report also ignores the fact that Coates acknowledged under questioning by Democratic Commissioner Michael Yaki that in 2005, Bush DOJ official Bradley Schlozman overruled his recommendation to investigate allegations that armed officials in Mississippi intimidated black voters.

The DOJ Inspector General's Office and Office of Personal Responsibility later determined that Schlozman improperly politicized personnel decisions in the Civil Rights Division.

During the hearing, Coates defended Schlozman's personnel record and acknowledged being the individual Schlozman once referred to as a "true member of the team." This testimony is conspicuously absent from the report's description of Coates' "13 and a half years in the Voting Section."

Instead of questioning Coates' credibility in any way, the commission actively seeks to minimize any criticism of its star witness.

In October, Joseph Rich, former head of the Voting Section, directly rebutted testimony that Coates gave to the commission to support the claim that the DOJ is hostile to pursuing voting-rights cases against minority defendants. According to Coates' testimony, Rich "omitted the portion of the memorandum" on the Brown case "in which [Coates] discussed why it was best to seek a civil injunction."

Coates claimed this illustrated a systemic opposition to investigating allegations that racial minorities are breaking voting-rights laws.

But in a subsequent declaration to the commission, Rich made clear that at the time, a civil investigation into the Noxubee Democratic leaders was already underway. The commission disposes of Rich's letter with a footnote that does not include the substance of his rebuttal.

Despite the fact that the DOJ very clearly initiated an investigation into Ike Brown and the Noxubee Democrats, the commission asserts that only further investigation can determine whether the department's handling of the case shows hostility to racially neutral enforcement of voting rights laws:

Without examining the Department's internal records, it is not possible to resolve the dispute regarding Mr. Rich definitively. Nonetheless, the nature of the above allegations reflects the contentious atmosphere within the Civil Rights Division regarding the Ike Brown case.

What's clear is that after 17 months of investigating the fevered claims of the discredited Bush Justice Department, the commission's majority of right-wing activists is putting forth an interim report that selectively cites evidence to support allegations that the Obama Justice Department has engaged in race-based justice, despite all evidence to the contrary.

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