The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights approved Friday its latest report on the Justice Department’s handling of a controversial civil rights case, even though the report makes no findings related to the case or the larger question of whether the Justice Department enforces civil rights laws in an even-handed manner.
The move marked what is likely to be a parting shot for conservative members, who are expected to become the minority and lose control of the commission in December.
For more than a year the commission has been investigating why the Obama administration reversed course on a federal lawsuit against two members of the New Black Panther Party, who some say intimidated Pennsylvania voters on Election Day 2008. The Justice Department sent its Civil Rights Division chief to testify and provided thousands of pages of documents to the commission, but some members still accuse the Justice Department of “stonewalling” by withholding what they describe as “highly relevant” documents and information.
“We cannot in good faith come up with a comprehensive report,” Republican commissioner Peter Kirsanow said during Friday’s hearing before the vote. “I suspect that one of the reasons why we have not been getting this information is because . . . in a couple of weeks the composition of this commission is going to change. At that point, there is a fairly good likelihood that this investigation would cease.”
The commission’s investigation expanded–and heated up–after two attorneys heavily involved in the initial filing of the case, including one still with the Justice Department, testified that it was all part of a “hostile” attitude by the Obama administration toward “race-neutral enforcement” of voting rights laws. The Justice Department has repeatedly denied such allegations, pointing to a case currently being prosecuted involving a black defendant who allegedly tried to disenfranchise white voters.
Nevertheless, the latest report approved Friday apparently draws heavily from allegations made by the two attorneys, with the report saying their testimony “provides a possible explanation” for the ultimate disposition of the New Black Panther party case and “may explain why the Department refuses to provide information that would allow the Commission to complete its job.”
But Democratic commissioner Michael Yaki, the sole dissenting voice to attend Friday’s vote, said it is the commission itself that is at war with its core mission, insisting the commission’s year-long investigation has been “reckless” and a “travesty of justice.”
Alleging “omission” and “suppression” of “key facts,” Yaki said the “bias” in the report is quite “astonishing.” Sworn testimony by Justice Department attorney Christopher Coates and former attorney J. Christian Adams, both critics of the Obama administration, are regarded in the report as “the immaculate words coming down on us . . . with nothing that can be challenged about them,” but others’ sworn statements disputing their testimony are “put in the footnotes, disregarded, pretty much ignored,” according to Yaki.
In addition, he said, the continuing case of Ike Brown, a Democratic official in Mississippi accused of devising a scheme to disenfranchise white voters, “just vanishes” in the report.
“The one immutable fact, the one proof, the one action that you can point to that shows that Justice is in fact enforcing the laws in a race-neutral fashion basically takes a dive,” Yaki said of the report, which has yet to be officially released.
The other commissioners at the hearing Friday took issue with Yaki’s assessment, insisting the investigation was warranted and the commission produced a “good report” that includes “fairly startling evidence” from “a couple of whistleblowers.” The latest version of the report was approved by a vote of 5-2, with one commissioner voting against the report via phone.