DOJ sources tell WaPo: Yes, racial politics are being played in the Civil Rights Division

A blockbuster, Breitbart calls it. Remember J. Christian Adams and the New Black Panther Party voting rights case? Thanks to Adams, the DOJ pursued a civil action against two Panther members for intimidating voters outside a polling place in Philly in 2008. The Panthers didn’t contest it and the DOJ won a permanent injunction — only to then drop the charges, seemingly inexplicably. Adams and a colleague claimed that the Department backed off because they didn’t want to pursue voting rights actions against minority defendants. DOJ higher-ups denied it. The Civil Rights Commission started investigating, and they eventually started splitting over what happened too.

Finally, at long last, WaPo decided to try to figure out what happened. Who’s right? Adams in asserting that there’s institutional resistance to using voting rights laws — which were, after all, passed in response to white abuses against blacks — against minority defendants? Or the higher-ups in insisting that the Panther case had nothing to do with race but merely with weak evidence? WaPo’s verdict:

In recent months, Adams and a Justice Department colleague have said the case was dismissed because the department is reluctant to pursue cases against minorities accused of violating the voting rights of whites. Three other Justice Department lawyers, in recent interviews, gave the same description of the department’s culture, which department officials strongly deny…

Civil rights officials from the Bush administration have said that enforcement should be race-neutral. But some officials from the Obama administration, which took office vowing to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement, thought the agency should focus primarily on cases filed on behalf of minorities.

“The Voting Rights Act was passed because people like Bull Connor were hitting people like John Lewis, not the other way around,” said one Justice Department official not authorized to speak publicly, referring to the white Alabama police commissioner who cracked down on civil rights protesters such as Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia…

Three Justice Department lawyers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their supervisors, described the same tensions, among career lawyers as well as political appointees. Employees who worked on the [Ike] Brown case were harassed by colleagues, they said, and some department lawyers anonymously went on legal blogs “absolutely tearing apart anybody who was involved in that case,” said one lawyer.

“There are career people who feel strongly that it is not the voting section’s job to protect white voters,” the lawyer said. “The environment is that you better toe the line of traditional civil rights ideas or you better keep quiet about it, because you will not advance, you will not receive awards and you will be ostracized.”

Adams wrote about the Ike Brown case for Pajamas Media here and here. It was brought in 2005 and marked the first time a voting rights action had been pursued against a minority defendant; as WaPo says, “Adams later told the civil rights commission that the decision to bring the Brown case caused bitter divisions in the voting section and opposition from civil rights groups.” Which is to say, apparently the institutional hostility to these actions inside the Civil Rights Division pre-dates Obama and his appointments. That’s how entrenched it is. As for the Panther case, WaPo reaches no formal conclusion but between those brutal quotes and the fact that legal experts are at a loss to explain why charges would be dismissed in an action where a default judgment had already been granted, you can draw your own conclusion. (Other officials told them that Holder was aware of the case but that the decision to drop the charges didn’t come from him.)

Not only am I amazed that they published this, I’m doubly amazed that they did it 10 days before a giant midterm. This is a “week after the election” story if ever there was one. Exit question: Second look at WaPo?