Coates: Obama appointee told me to stop pursuing race-neutral enforcement of Voting Rights Act

posted at 10:18 am on September 24, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

PJTV is broadcasting the testimony of Christopher Coates to the Civil Rights Commission live this morning, but they already have his opening statement available in PDF format at Pajamas Media.  It contains at least one bombshell, which is that Obama appointee Loretta King ordered Coates to stop asking applicants whether they supported race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.  The question became necessary because of resistance in the Civil Rights division from career attorneys to enforce the law when it resulted in African-American defendants rather than victims, an attitude that Coates first encountered in the Bush era:

Opposition within the Voting Section was widespread to taking actions under the VRA on behalf of white voters in Noxubee County, MS, the jurisdiction in which Ike Brown was and is the Chairman of the local Democratic Executive Committee.  In 2003, white voters and candidates complained to the Voting Section that elections had been administered in a racially discriminatory manner and asked that federal observers be sent to the primary run-off elections.  Career attorneys in the Voting Section recommended that we not even go to Noxubee County for the primary run-off to do election coverage, but that opposition to going to Noxubee was overridden by the Bush Administration’s CRD Front Office.  I went on the coverage and while traveling to Mississippi, the Deputy Chief who was leading that election coverage asked me, “can you believe that we are going to Mississippi to protect white voters?”  What I observed on that election coverage was some of the most outrageous and blatant racially discriminatory behavior at the polls committed by Ike Brown and his allies that I have seen or had reported to me in my thirty-three plus years as a voting rights litigator.

Eventually, a judge agreed with Coates’ assessment after the Department of Justice won an injunction against Brown and the Democratic Executive Committee, which was held up on appeal.  That was the first time that the DoJ had pursued prosecution under the VRA against African-American defendants, and it rankled many within the CRD.  When Coates took over the division, he began asking in job interviews whether applicants could work on similar cases in the future, but got slapped down for it:

In the spring of 2009, Ms. King, who had by then been appointed Acting AAG for Civil Rights by the Obama Administration, called me to her office and specifically instructed me that I was not to ask any other applicants whether they would be willing to, in effect, race-neutrally enforce the VRA.  Ms. King took offense that I was asking such a question of job applicants and directed me not to ask it because she does not support equal enforcement of the provisions of the VRA and had been highly critical of the filing and prosecution of the Ike Brown case.

The American view of the rule of law is clear: laws are to be enforced equally on all people, and prosecutions should not be predicated on ethnicity or other biases.  The court ruled that Ike Brown broke the law.  If so, why wouldn’t Justice prosecute and enforce the VRA for all American citizens?

I will continue to read through Coates’ testimony and update the post as necessary, but this alone should create questions about the politicization of justice and at Justice in this administration.

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