The Justice Department stonewalled efforts by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to investigate the dismissal of a civil complaint against the New Black Panther Party, leaving open the question of whether the department is willing to pursue civil rights cases "in which whites were the perceived victims and minorities the alleged wrongdoers."
In a 144-page report completed in November and released over the weekend, the commission said its lengthy investigation had uncovered "numerous specific examples of open hostility and opposition" within the department's Civil Rights Division to pursuing cases in which whites were the victims.
The report, posted on the commission's web site, said testimony obtained by the panel during its investigation included allegations that some Justice Department lawyers refused to work on cases involving white victims; that lawyers who worked on such cases were harassed and ostracized; and that some employees, including supervisory attorneys and political appointees, openly opposed race-neutral enforcement of voting rights laws.
Noting that two high-ranking lawyers in the department's Voting Rights Section testified that the hostility to race-neutral enforcement had influenced the decision-making process in the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) case, the report concluded that the Justice Department's failure to cooperate in the commission's investigation left unanswered "these serious accusations."
"While the department has issued general statements that it enforces the laws without regard to race, these assurances do not confirm, deny or explain the specific allegations of misconduct," the report said. "Unfortunately, the department has thus far refused to address many of these specific claims or to provide the type of information that would allow the commission to properly review the decision making relating to the NBPP lawsuit."
The Justice Department supervisor who recommended pursuing a voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party testified in September that the Civil Rights Division engaged in reverse racism, refusing to bring charges in voting cases unless the victim was a minority.
Christopher Coates, chief of the department's Voting Rights section when the New Back Panther case was brought, said he felt compelled to testify despite orders by Justice not to appear because of what he deemed inaccurate statements made to the commission and elsewhere by department officials defending the handling of the case.
Department officials consistently said they were following the law and evidence when they dismissed the case after they had won it by default judgment, but Mr. Coates posited a different explanation.
"Based upon my own personal knowledge of the events surrounding the division's actions in the Panther case and the atmosphere that existed and continues to exist in the division and in the voting section against fair enforcement of certain federal voting laws, I do not believe these representations to this commission accurately reflect what occurred in the Panther case and do not reflect the hostile atmosphere that existed within the division for a long time against race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act," he said.
Mr. Coates said this hostility became clear to him while pursuing a 2005 Mississippi case in which white voters were the victims of intimidation. He said some department employees refused to work on the case, which, according to Mr. Coates, also drew criticism from civil rights groups.
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