The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Friday postponed a vote on a draft report that blasts the Justice Department’s handling of a controversial voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party after a Democrat thwarted the vote in protest.
Democratic Commissioner Michael Yaki, who would have made quorum, left the meeting room before the body could vote on the document. The report says the DOJ did not fully cooperate with the commission’s investigation into the government’s decision to dismiss most charges against members of the anti-white fringe group who wore military clothing as they stood outside a polling place in a black neighborhood in Philadelphia in November 2008. The panel postponed the vote on the report to next Friday.
“This process for this entire investigation has been a farce from the beginning and done in a way to diminish the opportunity of those who oppose this investigation to participate,” Yaki told reporters outside the meeting room.
Commissioner Arlan Melendez, a Democrat, and Vice Chairman Abigail Thernstrom, a Republican, who both have concerns about the body’s investigation, were unable to attend the meeting, which he said was called on short notice. The Democratic commissioner said “their voices deserve to be heard.”
Chairman Gerald Reynolds, a Republican, told reporters after the meeting that no one tried to keep the commissioners from attending the meeting.
“There was no game playing here,” Reynolds said.
The draft report, obtained by Talking Points Memo, says the DOJ did not adequately address “serious accusations” made by former DOJ staffer J. Christian Adams and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Coates, the former chief of the Civil Rights Division Voting Section, about hostility in the DOJ to prosecuting voting rights cases against minorities. Adams and Coates were told by the DOJ not to appear before the commission.
DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler told Main Justice on Thursday that she “strongly” disagrees with the report’s claims about the DOJ’s responsiveness. She said the DOJ has handed over more than 4,000 documents about the case at the request of the commission.
Schmaler also noted that Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez testified about the case before the commission. He defended decisions made in the case in his testimony earlier this year.
The report cites The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, as the source of many of its findings. The commission’s $173,653 investigation has received praise from Republicans, who have expressed concern about the DOJ’s decisions in the case.
Commissioner Peter Kirsanow, a Republican, said the commission should discuss keeping its probe open on an “indefinite” basis because the body is still waiting for more information from the DOJ. David Blackwood, the commission’s general counsel, said the body will subpoena former acting Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Loretta King and her former deputy, Sam Hirsch, in addition to division officials Julie Fernandes and Steve Rosenbaum, who are key figures involved with the New Black Panther Party case.
“I understand that the Department of Justice did agree to at least receive our next set of subpoenas,” said Commissioner Todd F. Gaziano, an Independent. “That’s a good thing. I hope they actually stop instructing their employees not to [testify].”