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For a time, it seemed like the Obama administration might have dodged a bullet in the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) voter intimidation scandal. The case mostly faded from public view after former Department of Justice official J. Christopher Adams testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in July. Adams claimed the DOJ routinely ignores civil rights cases involving white victims, with its decision to drop most of the charges in the NBPP case providing the most egregious example of this disturbing trend. Administration officials dismissed Adams’ allegations and leftists sought to portray him as a disgruntled ex-staffer with an ax to grind. What was a burgeoning scandal then seemed to burn itself out. The smoldering flames roared back to life on Friday, when Christopher Coates, the former voting chief in the Civil Rights Division, testified under oath before the commission.
The DOJ spent the better part of a year trying to prevent Coates from testifying and even ordered him to ignore a subpoena. It’s now clear why the administration would try to stop Coates from telling his story, for his is a damning tale indeed. Not only did the ex-ACLU attorney back up Adams’ claims that charges were dropped in the NBPP case for political (rather than legal) reasons, he outlined a disturbing pattern of behavior within Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice. Rather than representing an anomaly, Coates laid out a convincing case that the DOJ’s questionable behavior in the NBPP case is consistent with racially-motivated departmental policy.
In order to put the NBPP controversy in context, Coates went back to a case he got involved in back in 2003: United States vs. Ike Brown et al. That landmark case, involving an election in Mississippi, was the first time that the Voting Rights Act was invoked to protect the rights of white voters who were subjected to racial discrimination by African Americans and other minorities. Despite the objections of some long-time DOJ staffers, Coates and others pressed forward with the case and the courts ultimately found Brown and his co-defendants guilty.
According to Coates, Ike Brown and his allies engaged in “…some of the most outrageous and blatantly discriminatory behavior at the polls…” that he had witnessed in over thirty years as a voting rights litigator. Nonetheless, Coates testified that some career attorneys in the voting rights section didn’t want to take the case, believing that the Voting Rights Act should only be invoked if a minority was the aggrieved party. He added that one African American attorney who volunteered to help out in the Brown case was subject to harassment from some DOJ employees.
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