The Justice Department is failing to apply the law equally to minority and white Americans, ex-Justice official Christopher Coates testified Friday morning — defying orders from the department against appearing before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Since former Justice official J. Christian Adams testified in July about the biased culture there, the commission saw Coates as the man able to corroborate Adams’s claims. Further, as the the former head of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division, Coates was a key witness to the handling of cases, specifically the New Black Panther (NBPP) case. In that case, the Justice Department dropped charges of voter intimidation against members of the NBPP who on election day 2008 stood outside of a polling place dressed in military garb and hurled racial slurs at white voters (one brandishing a nightstick).
Coates discussed the NBPP case in great detail on Friday, saying that the reason for the case’s dismissal was hostility within the division against prosecuting cases that involved a white victim and minority defendant.
“[A] large number of the people who worked in the Voting Section and the CRD (Civil Rights Division), and many of the liberal private groups that work in the civil rights field believe, incorrectly but vehemently, that enforcement of the protections of the VRA (Voting Rights Act) should not be extended to white voters but should be limited to protecting racial, ethnic and language minorities,” Coates testified.
Under the George W. Bush administration, the Justice Department pursued the NBPP case. Last year, under the Obama administration, the department dropped the charges — the single caveat being that one of the NBPP members never carry a weapon near a polling place again.
“As important as the mandate in the VRA is to protect minority voters, white voters also have an interest in being able to go to the polls without having race-haters such as Black Panther King Samir Shabazz whose public record includes such statements as ‘kill cracker babies’ standing at the entrance of the polling place with a billy club in his hand hurling racial slurs,” Coates said.
Still an employee of the Justice Department, albeit one currently exiled to the Charleston Office of the United States Attorney, the commission thanked Coates several times for the risk he was taking by testifying.
In his speech to the commission Coates noted that he was “claiming all the protections of all applicable federal whistle-blower statutes.” Compounding calls for protection was a letter from Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf to Attorney General Eric Holder, read into the record by Commissioner Peter Kirsanow, warning the department not to punish Coates for his testimony in any way.
Only hesitating to answer questions in matters that were “privileged,” Coates did not hold back and his allegations will likely be a source of conversation for months to come. “Large numbers of minority persons now serve as election and poll officials in hundreds of jurisdictions throughout America. In such a multi-racial and multi-cultural country, not one of Bull Conner or Ross Barnett, but the country in which an African American serves as the president and as the attorney general of the United Stats, and it is absolutely essential that the VRA be enforced equally against all racial and ethnic groups,” he said.
The Justice Department has claimed no wrongdoing. “The department makes enforcement decisions based on the merits, not the race, gender or ethnicity of any party involved. We are committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of the federal laws that prohibit voter intimidation,” a spokesman said in July.