Monday, September 27, 2010

All whistleblowers are not alike

You'd think that the media would have a field day when a Clinton appointee with a background working for the ACLU testifies under oath about bias from the Justice Department. And when that brave individual defied an order from his own department in order to testify, everyone would want to know what was so dire that he risked his job to tell the truth about. There would be magazine covers and he'd get Time Person of the Year as whistleblowers against Bush did. It would be the lead story on the nightly news. Right?

Well, no. Because this whistleblower is blowing the whistle on the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder. And that just isn't as interesting. But they couldn't totally ignore the story. Here is the summary from Politico. Here is the protagonist, Christopher Coates.
Coates’ highly-charged testimony before the Civil Rights Commission echoed those allegations, as well as the testimony of J. Christian Adams, one of Coates’ colleagues in the voting rights section. However, Coates’s charges may carry greater weight because he worked decades ago as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, has won awards from civil rights groups and lacks the partisan GOP resume of the department’s harshest opponents.
And his accusation is important - that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is not race-neutral when it comes to enforcing the law.
Though video showed two members in paramilitary gear harassing whites outside a polling place in Philadelphia, Coates said, his supervisors downplayed the case because the alleged perpetrators were black. Yet if the two suspects were white-robed Ku Klux Klansmen menacing black voters, Coates told the panel, there would have been widespread uproar and demands for justice.

Coates accused the Justice Department of caving in to outside influence groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which he said demanded that prosecutors drop the case. “Many of these groups act…as special interest lobbies for racial and ethnic minorities and demand not equal treatment but enforcement of the Voting Rights Act only for racial and language minorities,” Coates said.

The outcome of the New Black Panthers Party case, he said, confirmed his concerns that the top ranks at Justice are interested only in protecting minorities.

Coates said the Justice Department’s efforts to silence him threatened to obscure what he called “the hostile atmosphere that has existed within [Justice’s Civil Rights] Division for a long time against race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.”

“I did not lightly decide to comply with your subpoena in contradiction to the DOJ’s directives not to testify,” Coates said. “If incorrect representations are going to successfully thwart inquiry into the systemic problems regarding race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act by the Civil Rights Division, problems that were the New Black Panther Party case that end is not going to be furthered or accomplished by my sitting idly or silently by at the direction of my supervisors while incorrect information is provided.

“I do not believe that I am professionally, ethically, legally, or morally bound to allow such a result to occur,” Coates said.

....Coates said his view that some in the Civil Rights Division were hostile to enforcing voting rights laws against minorities was reinforced by his experience pursuing a case filed in majority-black Noxubee County, Mississippi, in 2005. “Opposition within the voting section was widespread to taking actions under the Voting Rights Act on behalf of white voters in,” where blacks are in the majority, he said.

“A Voting Section career attorney informed me that he was opposed to bringing voting rights cases against African American defendants…until we reached the day when the socio-economic status of blacks in Mississippi was the same as the socio-economic status of whites living there,” he said. “Of course, there’s nothing in the statutory language of the VRA that indicates DOJ lawyers can decide not to enforce the race-neutral prohibitions in the Act against racial discrimination….until socio-economic parity is achieved between blacks and whites in the jurisdiction in which the cases arise.”

Coates said a senior Civil Rights Division official, Loretta King also ordered him to stop asking job Justice Department job candidates if they would be willing to work on cases against minorities who violated equal-protection laws as well as cases filed against whites.

“She did not ask me. She told me. She said, ‘You will not ask that question again,’” Coates said.
And he also took issue with an Inspector General's report that the Bush administration was making politically-motivated appointments.
n his testimony yesterday, Coates took issue with the Inspector General’s finding that Bush Administration political appointees, including acting civil rights division head Bradley Schlozman, acted improperly by using political litmus tests when hiring new lawyers for the unit.

“Mr. Schlozman found a Civil Rights Division that was almost totally left-liberal in the basis of the ideology of the people who were working in it. And he made some concerted effort to diversify the division so that conservatives as well as liberals could find work there,” said Coates. “I found the criticism by the career management in the Civil Rights Division that Mr. Schlozman had hired on ideological grounds to be akin to Pete Rose criticizing Willie Nelson for not paying his federal income tax.”

If the Republicans take back at least one house of Congress, I don't expect that this will be the last we'll hear of this testimony. While the American people want the Congress to focus on our economic woes, the public also has an interest in keeping the Justice Department from being overly politicized to the extent that the law is not being enforced on an equal basis.