Why won’t the Justice Department let Christopher Coates testify on New Black Panther Party case?

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J. Christian Adams, a former Department of Justice official, has gained a lot of media attention as a whistle-blower in the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) voter intimidation case. His testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has raised a great deal of concern and questions about the current racial mandates at the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

While Adams’ statements about the racial directives within the division have caused public distress, they have not given rise to action as his testimony, though partially corroborated, is in some regards hearsay. Christopher Coates is perhaps the one man who could provide substantive answers to back up Adams’ claims.

Coates was the chief of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department who led the team of attorneys that brought the initial case of voter intimidation against the NBPP. In May 2009, Coates was allegedly ordered to dismiss the charges against the NBPP.

On January 5, 2010, the Department reassigned Coates to the U.S. attorney’s office in Charleston, South Carolina. Some have speculated that the reassignment was in retaliation for his prosecution of voting rights violations against black defendants, specifically the NBPP and a case in Noxubee County, Mississippi (U.S. v. Ike Brown, a case in which a black political boss in Mississippi, Ike Brown, was accused of voter suppression).

A DOJ spokesman, Xochitl Hinojosa, told The Daily Caller in a brief e-mail that “Christopher Coates requested the transfer to South Carolina.” But despite DOJ’s position, some still question whether Coates’ reassignment was voluntary and why the DOJ won’t allow him to speak about the NBPP case.

In mid-January at National Review Online, Hans A. von Spakovsky paraphrased a speech Coates gave at his going away party on January 4, 2010 explaining his decision to prosecute the aforementioned voting rights cases. “The first is that a plain reading of the statutory language of the Voting Rights Act indicates that it is aimed at protecting all American voters from racial discrimination and voter intimidation, and is not limited to protecting only racial-minority or language-minority voters,” von Spakovsky paraphrased Coates. “The second reason I supported the prosecution of these two cases is because the race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act is imperative to the holding of racially fair elections.”

So far, the DOJ has refused to allow Coates to testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about the NBPP case.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow told The Daily Caller, the DOJ’s rationale for preventing Coates from testifying is that since the Commission’s area of inquiry could be about why the NBPP case was dismissed, any testimony from Coates would involve the DOJ’s internal case deliberations, which are privileged.

Gerald Reynolds, the Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, told TheDC that if the DOJ had nothing to hide they would allow Coates speak.

“I cannot understand why the Department would not be eager to rebut the allegations made by Christian Adams. They should not wait to receive an invitation from the Commission. They should be eager to have this conversation,” Reynolds said. “The allegation is devastating, if it’s true. And if I were over at the Department of Justice the first thing that I would want to do is just allay all concerns that there’s a policy in place, formal or otherwise, that the Department will not enforce the voting right to act against black defendants.”
Kirsanow said that much of the information the Commission is seeking from Coates is not privileged at all. “One of the reasons we would like to hear from Chris Coates — and this particular line of testimony would not be privileged, so there’s absolutely no reason not to provide it — is to verify that all of these things Christian Adams told us occurred because Chris Coates was right there,” he said.

The Commission members say that they are interested in matters that are larger than the NBPP case dismissal. One issue is whether high-level political appointees within the DOJ have enunciated a policy or tolerate a practice of enforcing civil rights laws in a racially discriminatory manner? A second is whether a high-level political appointee within the DOJ enunciated a policy or tolerated a practice of not enforcing Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act that ensures the eligibility of voters? And a third is whether there is hostility within the ranks of the Civil Rights Division toward enforcing the nation’s civil rights laws in an unbiased or blind manner?

“I want to know,” U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Commissioner Todd Gaziano said to TheDC, “why can’t we talk to the man who originally made the decision to bring the case against the Black Panthers? The Justice Department is hiding something and I think they need to explain.”

Reynolds told TheDC that without Coates their final report will have less weight.

“The value of our report will be adversely affected if we don’t have access to Coates,” Reynolds said. “He has a broad knowledge of how that division handles these kinds of cases, intimidation cases. He has first hand knowledge of the events that gave rise to our need to conduct this investigation. And finally, according to Adams, and this has to be confirmed one way or the other, he has firsthand knowledge of comments made by Julie Fernandez [the Deputy Assistant Attorney General who reportedly ordered Coates, ‘Never bring another lawsuit against a black or other national minority’].”

Adams spoke to the Commission on July 6. He testified of a distinct aversion on the part of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to pursue cases involving black defendants.

“In the 45 years since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, the Department has brought hundreds and I believe hundreds of cases to protect African Americans, language, minorities and so forth,” he said. “There are only two cases that the Department has brought to protect white voters and have African- American defendants. One was the New Black Panther case and one was U.S. v. Ike Brown…But I will guarantee you, in 45 years of this law’s existence, not only has there never been an objection on behalf of a white victim, but there hasn’t even been the analysis. They don’t analyze this. It isn’t done.”
Adams continued, “I was told by Voting Section management that cases are not going to be brought against black defendants for the benefit of white victims, that if somebody wanted to bring these cases it was up to the U.S. Attorney, but the Civil Rights Division wasn’t going to be bringing it. If Mr. Coates were allowed to testify and tell the truth, then you would hear that these instructions were given.”

Another commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Gail Heriot, told TheDC that Coates’ testimony is central to not only the New Black Panther Party case but also to revealing any corruption that may exist within the DOJ.

“The bottom line is that nobody is in better position than Christopher Coates to help the Commission determine whether there is in fact a culture of hostility toward the race-neutral application of the law in the Civil Rights Division,” she said.

Kirsanow agreed, saying, “Christopher Coates is the guy who saw everything, who heard everything, he is the center focus of everything related to New Black Panther, and everything related to whether or not the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ enforces civil rights laws in a racially discriminatory manner.”

In a piece published at Pajamas Media, Adams elaborated on Coates’ importance. “Of course, the outstanding subpoena of former voting section chief Christopher Coates hangs over the DOJ like the Sword of Damocles,” He writes. “Anyone who has spoken with Coates over the last few years knows exactly what his testimony will be. Anyone who has read his going-away speech to the entire voting section knows exactly what his testimony would be. And anyone familiar with the unimpeachable reputation of Coates knows his testimony will silence the phony personal attacks and move the discussion to where it belongs — how to fix things. Additional corroboration to my testimony, which Coates would provide, cannot be concealed forever.”

“If what Adams said is true, we will issue our report and our findings and our recommendations and I would encourage the Obama administration to clean up its own mess and if it refused to I would ask that the Congress clean up the mess,” Reynolds said. “But at this point, we don’t know if we have a mess. We have not heard from Coates.”

The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ declined to allow TheDC to speak with Christopher Coates.

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