On Election Day 2008, three members of the New Black Panther Party were captured on tape at a Philadelphia polling place attempting to intimidate voters. All three wore military attire and one wielded a nightstick. The Justice Department, in the last days of President George W. Bush’s presidency, brought a voter intimidation case against the trio, which the department won by default. Then President Obama’s political appointees in the Justice Department got involved. Without even reading the memoranda connected to the case, they forced its dismissal after it was already won. Justice dropped the case against two of the defendants and settled with the third, requiring him only to refrain from carrying a “deadly weapon” near a Philadelphia polling place until 2012.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has attempted to investigate the dismissal, only to meet resistance from Obama’s Department of Justice at every turn. J. Christian Adams, a career lawyer in Justice’s voting rights section, testified before the commission last month, but only after resigning his position because of “the corrupt nature of the dismissal, statements [by Obama appointees] falsely characterizing the case, and most of all, indefensible orders for the career attorneys not to comply with lawful subpoenas investigating the dismissal.”
Justice is now blocking another career lawyer at Justice, Christopher Coates, from testifying on the case. Coates, who led the Justice Department’s voting rights section, reportedly objected to dismissal of the case, at which point he was removed from his post and transferred to South Carolina.
This case matters. What’s at stake is the fair and honest administration of justice, something the Obama administration seems to regard all too lightly. If, as Adams testified, Obama’s Justice Department consciously ignores voting rights violations allegedly committed by minorities, that is a big deal. We need transparency now, to restore faith in government. We need to hear from Coates and others about why such clear-cut wrongdoing only merited dismissals and a wrist-slap.
Thomas Perez, Obama’s appointee to head the Civil Rights Division at Justice, is apparently so busy suing Arizona law enforcement and blocking Ivy League colleges from using the Amazon Kindle that he doesn’t think flagrant violations of the laws protecting voters are worth his time. Obama should get his priorities in line, embrace transparency in this case, and stop stonewalling a legitimate investigation into Justice Department corruption.