Conservative critics often level the charge of reverse racism against President Obama, citing a voter-intimidation case from 2008 that they say was dismissed because the defendants were members of the New Black Panther Party and the victims were white. Today, Chris Coates, the former head of the Department of Justice’s Voting Rights Section, gave those critics more fodder. He testified at a civil-rights commission that top officials were involved with dismissing the case. Coates claimed it was evidence that the department wasn’t interested in being “race neutral” and that it folded under pressure to minority groups, adding that this type of culture intensified under Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Coates, it should be noted, was also reassigned to a smaller post in South Carolina last December — a move that angered Bush-era DOJ alums like Hans von Spakovsky. As Media Matters points out, Spakovsky said Coates, former counsel for the ACLU, became a “a true member of the team” during the Bush administration. The DOJ called the investigation “thin on facts and evidence and thick on rhetoric.”
So is Coates telling the truth or is he bitter over his demotion and towing the line for “the team”?
In their defense, Justice Department officials point to comments from Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom, a conservative and leading race expert who dismissed the New Black Panther case as “small potatoes” and was dubious as to why the commission pursued investigating it. Media Matters calls the scandal “phony,” citing Coates’s new political ties.
Either way, it seems like the hardest charge for the Department of Justice to escape is that it’s deeply partisan to the administration in power. While Von Spakovsky was working there, he had a history of pushing for voting restrictions that disproportionately harm minority voters. Under the Bush administration, Von Spakovsky and two other division heads say they changed it so that you no longer had to be a “civil-rights person” to work in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
Prosecutor alleges Department of Justice bias [Politico]
Coates’ testimony used to revive phony DOJ scandal [Media Matters]