Remember the viral video from election day 2008 of Black Panthers blocking a polling place in Pennsylvania? Meet J. Christian Adams, the DOJ attorney responsible for prosecuting them. He brought suit and, thanks to the Panthers’ refusal to answer the charges, obtained an order of default against them. All that was left to do was to enter a judgment and proceed to sentencing — except that, at the last minute, Adams’s supervisors told him to dismiss the case (which, I emphasize, he’d already won). That decision piqued the curiosity of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (the conservative-controlled Commission on Civil Rights, as lefty bloggers are quick to emphasize), which issued subpoenas to the team of DOJ lawyers who’d prosecuted the Panthers; the DOJ told the lawyers to ignore the subpoenas, thereby placing them in legal jeopardy for refusing to testify. That was the last straw for Adams, who resigned from the Department last month and started talking publicly about the case, first in an op-ed for the Washington Times over the weekend and then on Monday in a long post at Pajamas Media about double standards practiced by the DOJ in voting rights cases. So what’s his theory for why the case was dropped? Simple: Compensation for historical injustices. After more than a century of black voters being intimidated at the polls, it just wouldn’t seem fair to prosecute a black group for voter intimidation:
Contrary to the views of some conservatives, racial discrimination still exists. A black motorist pulled over by the police is likely to have a different experience than a similarly situated white motorist. Without question, some apartment complexes and dining establishments still treat blacks differently from whites. The Department of Justice’s undercover housing testing program demonstrates this fact over and over again…
Americans have the right to know, however, whether or not this administration harbors hostility towards a race-neutral enforcement of the civil rights laws. The firsthand experience of many within the Justice Department leaves no doubt about this insidious attitude.
Some activists may claim this is much ado about nothing. This view is shortsighted: it is hard to imagine what would erode support for the civil rights laws more than the idea that many of us aren’t protected. Equal enforcement of the law vests all of us in the mission of equality. Protecting everyone seems a small price to pay for civil rights organizations to preserve the popularity of their agenda. Failing to protect everyone only fuels hostility to their agenda.
Here’s what I don’t get. If the DOJ really was intent on exacting “rough justice” for voter intimidation suffered by blacks, why would it pick the Panther case, of all cases, to illustrate that? They already had a default on the books and, as Adams says, it’s one of the most flagrant cases of intimidation that you’ll ever see. And the Panthers are a small, fringe group, so political fallout from prosecuting them would be minimal. The smart play would have been to follow through on the prosecution and use it as a high-profile example of the very evenhandedness that Adams claims is lacking, and then quietly look the other way at other cases of voter intimidation involving black defendants if/when they arise. Even assuming the worst motives here, the way they played this seems bizarre.
Adams is scheduled to testify before the Commission on Civil Rights on July 6th. Stay tuned.