Justice Department official Christopher Coates told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, yesterday, that prejudice and racial bias run rampant in the department from leadership to staff, and civil rights violations against white voters are routinely and premeditatedly ignored.
Coates is a former ACLU lawyer and long-time Justice Department investigator who ran the Department’s Voting Section from 2008 until December 2009 when he was transferred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina.
Coates was subpoenaed by the Commission about the time of his transfer to testify regarding the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case but was directed not to comply by his superiors.
Coates told the commission he is finally testifying to correct information Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez had supplied the Commission, the final straw apparently being an Aug. 11 letter in which he again denied a request that he be allowed to testify.
Coates is claimed “the protections of all applicable federal whistleblower statutes” before testifying.
The New Black Panther Party case stems from an incident Election Day 2008 at a polling place at 1221 Fairmount St., Philadelphia. SamirShabazz, and Jerry Jackson made racially disparaging remarks to voters while dressed in military garb, with Shabazz carrying a nightstick.
The Justice Department filed suit and won a default judgment against them when they ignored the charges. This judgment, however, was dismissed in May 2009.
Coates said he believed the case was dismissed due to “deep-seated opposition to the equal enforcement of the Voting Rights Act against racial minorities and for the protection of whites who have been discriminated against”.
Coates had earlier described his experiences prosecuting Ike Brown, a black who chaired the Democratic Executive Committee of Noxubee County, Mississippi. White voters and candidates had complained to the Justice Department in 2003 that elections had been administered in a racially discriminatory manner and asked that federal observes be sent to the primary run-off elections. Coates said that what he observed during the election was some of the most “outrageous and blatant racially discriminatory behavior at polls” in his 33-plus years as a voting rights litigator.
He wrote a preliminary memorandum summarizing the evidence and recommended an investigation under the Votes Right Act with a civil injunction against Brown and the local Democrat committee to stop the pattern of discrimination.
This was forwarded to Joe Rich, who was then chief of the Voting Section, who sent it on without the part in which an injunction was recommended. He said he later learned that the Rich had said he omitted the information because he didn’t believe an investigation should be made. Approval, however, was obtained albeit finding personnel willing to perform the investigation was not easy.
Coates said one social scientist responsible for researching a jurisdiction’s history flatly refused to participate. An attorney with whom Coates had previously worked told hm that he had not come to the Voting Section to sue African American defendants. Still another attorney told him that he was opposed to bringing voting rights cases against blacks until the socio-economic status of blacks in Mississippi was that same as whites there.
Still, with the help of one attorney and paralegal new to the Voting section, and the support of the Civil Rights Division front office a suit was filed and Ike Brown was removed from superintendent of the Democratic Executive Committee of Noxubee County.
Coates said, however, that a young black paralegal who volunteered to assist on the case was the subject of vicious harassment by co-workers including an attorney, as was his mother who was also Civil Rights Division employee.
Coates said because of his experience in the Ike Brown case he began to ask new applicants for trial attorney positions if they would be willing to ignore color and prosecute claims of discrimination against white voters. Word got back to Loretta King who had been appointed Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights by President Obama. Coates said she called him to her office and specifically prohibited him from asking such questions. He said Ms. King had been highly critical of the filing of the Ike Brown case.
Coates also explained that the reasons cited by the Justice Department for dropping the New Black Panther Party case were unreasonable. He said, for instance, that citing the determination of a local police officer who ordered Shabazz to leave but allowed Jackson to stay because he was a certified Democrat Party poll watcher was something he had never seen in his 13 years with the Department of Justice. He said police officers are not trained in what constitutes a voting rights violations and that local police have on occasion had sympathy for the persons who were violating the voting rights act.
Coates also testified that Voting Rights section was willfully refusing to enforce the National Voter Registration Act, which includes a requirement that states ensure voter registration list remove the names of those no longer eligible to vote in a jurisdiction.
Coates said that Julie Fernandez who was appointed as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights by Obama said that “the Obama Administration was not interested in that type of issue.”
The Voting Section began filing cases under the list maintenance provision during the Bush Administration. Coates said that there were states that had reported that no voters had been removed from the list in the last two years.
“I do not believe that Voting Section has recently been involved in any list maintenance enforcement during the Obama administration,” Coates said.
According to Coates’ testimony, acts of intimidation are far more common that is popularly believed. Coates testified that during his tenure as chief of Voting Section a prolonged investigation concerning Wilkinson County, Mississippi, a majority-black county, reveled that the home of a white candidate for local office was burned. No one was ever prosecuted for the burning.
He said a bank that was being used to store absentee ballots in majority-black Hale County, Alabama was burned in attempt at election theft. Again, no one was ever prosecuted for the arson.
A pdf file of Coates testimony can be found here .
And despite, the strong Philadelphia angle there was nary a mention of what Coates said in either today’s Philadelphia Inquirer or Delaware County Daily Times.