On July 23, the seven GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Patrick Leahy demanding an oversight hearing of the Civil Rights Division. They want to investigate the dismissal of the NBPP case and the other allegations regarding Ms. Fernandes. As the letter notes, those allegations raise the question of whether the Civil Rights Division “is actively engaged in widespread politicization and possible corruption. This Committee has a duty to investigate such serious allegations that strike at the heart of the Department’s integrity.”
Sen. Leahy responded in a July 29 letter that ignores the sworn testimony of Adams, and simply parrots the left-wing talking points designed to downplay this case and spin it as a conservative political plot.
Leahy claims there is no need for a hearing because Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) asked Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez about the NBPP case three months ago in an oversight hearing. Leahy sees “no credible basis to second guess the decision” to dismiss the case.
Of course, Leahy completely ignores the fact that the most damaging information about the Civil Rights Division has come to light since Perez testified before the Judiciary Committee. Perez appeared before J. Christian Adams told the Civil Rights Commission about Julie Fernandes and the Division’s pervasive and open hostility to enforcing civil rights laws in a race-neutral manner. Adams also testified that a minority employee was repeatedly harassed for working on another case where the defendant was black and the alleged victims were white and black voters, as well as the fact that attorneys in the Voting Section refused to work on the same case because the defendant was black.
In asserting that he has no “credible” reason to question the dismissal, Leahy also overlooks Adams’ testimony that Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven Rosenbaum admitted to Christopher Coates that he (Rosenbaum) had not even read the internal Justice Department memo recounting the relevant facts and law prior to making the decision to dismiss the NBPP case. Coates and Adams told Thomas Perez about this the day before Perez testified before the Civil Right Commission. Perez conveniently neglected to mention this in his testimony — an oversight that raises the issue of whether his testimony was intentionally misleading. And Leahy makes no mention of the fact that the Appellate Section also agreed with the trial team in the Voting Section that the Department should not dismiss the lawsuit.
It’s curious that Leahy doesn’t want to hear testimony from the career lawyers who actually investigated and worked on this case. Coates has litigated civil rights cases for almost 40 years. He won the second-highest award given by the Civil Rights Division for his “extraordinary skill, dedication and integrity in written and oral advocacy.” Why wouldn’t Leahy want to hear from this exemplary professional?
Instead, Leahy simply asserts that the allegations of politicization are “hard to credit” because the Division’s decision to seek civil penalties rather than criminal sanctions occurred during the Bush administration. Of course, this has absolutely no relevance to the decision to dismiss the civil charges.
As a practical matter, the Civil Rights Division files civil cases because a civil injunction is often the quickest and simplest way to make sure a violation of the Voting Rights Act does not happen again. It’s a particularly useful approach if elections are coming up soon. Had the Division obtained an injunction against all of the defendants — something it could have done easily in May 2009 when they all defaulted — it could then have proceeded with criminal charges. Before that, the Division was focused on the remedy best able to stop and prevent voter intimidation as quickly as possible.
Leahy’s letter concludes with a laughable line applauding Attorney General Holder’s effort “to remove the taint of partisan politics from law enforcement decisions at the Justice Department.” Friends still working at Justice, as well as former Justice Department lawyers — both career staff and political appointees — tell me that Eric Holder is the most political attorney general they have seen. Politics, they say, seems to drive almost all of his decision-making, not just in civil rights, but in the areas of national security and immigration enforcement, too.
Leahy obviously was not trying to make a joke, but that is what his claim amounts to. And his letter makes it clear that Democrats intend to do everything they can to keep the truth from coming out about the NBPP case and the administration of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department.