Opinion

The politicization of the Justice Department

Recent reports betray a growing culture of deception, arrogance, willful obstructionism, and selective enforcement of the law at the U.S. Department of Justice.

First, a January 18th report from a victim rights group showed that many of the statements on the DOJ’s Office of Violence Against Women website systematically misrepresent the facts about partner abuse.

Then, a February 3rd USA Today column revealed that Attorney General Eric Holder prevaricated when he made the claim that intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for black women. The actual leading causes of death for black women? Cancer, heart disease, and accidents.

This past week, it was learned that the DOJ has been giving bottom-drawer treatment to Freedom of Information Act requests from conservatives. One of the requestors was Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), whose FOIA request languished at the DOJ for five months. Deliciously, Wolf was recently named chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the DOJ budget.

But the most explosive revelations center around the DOJ’s handling of allegations of voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party during the 2008 presidential election.

If you didn’t see the riveting video, it features two Black Panthers dressed in paramilitary attire — one wielding a billy club — in front of a Philadelphia polling place. The two were shouting racial epithets and making threatening statements. Knowledgeable observers say the incident represents one of the most egregious violations of the Voting Rights Act they have ever seen.

Here’s the improbable sequence of events:

On January 7th, 2009, the DOJ Civil Rights Division filed a voter intimidation lawsuit against three men and the New Black Panther Party.

On January 20th, President Obama was sworn into office as the nation’s 44th president, vowing to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Two weeks later, Eric Holder was confirmed as the U.S. attorney general.

The Black Panthers decided to not contest the allegations, and the DOJ was given a May 1st deadline to file for a default judgment. But DOJ Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch, an Obama appointee, decided to look into the high-profile case.

Thumbing his nose at the considered arguments of six DOJ career attorneys, Hirsch participated in discussions that led to the lawsuit being dramatically scaled back. As a result, three defendants were let off the hook, and the “punishment” was reduced to the gentlest of wrist-slaps — no fines or jail time, just cross your heart and promise you won’t be naughty again.

AG Eric Holder knew about the case as well. By the DOJ’s own admission, “The Attorney General was made generally aware…that the Civil Rights Division was considering the appropriate actions to take in the New Black Panther Party litigation.” But there’s no evidence that he or President Obama played an active role in the decision.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (CCR) is an independent, non-partisan agency established to investigate complaints that citizens were deprived of their right to vote. So when the Commission learned of the DOJ about-face, it decided to launch its own probe. The Commission held hearings, took depositions, and requested internal documents.

By law, the DOJ is required to cooperate fully with CCR investigations. Although the DOJ handed over some documents, it declined to share key emails. Overall, the DOJ refused to answer 18 interrogatories or produce documents in response to 22 separate requests.