Coates is in a position to confirm key facts in that narrative. One of the most experienced voting rights lawyers in the country, he was a staff attorney for many years for the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. Coates received the Thurgood Marshall Decade Award in 1991 from the Georgia NAACP, as well as the Environmental Justice Award in 1994 from the Georgia Environmental Organization.
The Clinton administration hired Coates as a career lawyer in 1996. He was promoted at the Justice Department under both Clinton and George W. Bush. In 2007, he received the Civil Rights Division’s second-highest award, the Walter Barnett Memorial Award for Excellence and Advocacy.
Considering this background, it is difficult to imagine Coates not having the respect of anyone devoted to voting rights.
Yet after Coates was relieved of his post as chief of the Voting Section in January and transferred to Charleston, SC, on a detail to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he gave a remarkable speech at his farewell party. He spoke extensively about criticism he had received both inside and outside the Civil Rights Division for pursuing the case against the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia, as well as a case several years earlier in Noxubee County, Miss., in which black county officials were found guilty of a long pattern of race-based discrimination.
Coates noted his amazement that he had spent his entire career filing voting rights lawsuits on behalf of minority voters, and yet was ostracized for filing two cases involving discrimination against non-traditional defendants. (In fact, the Noxubee case was the first-ever Justice Department action charging a black defendant with blatantly discriminating against white voters, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.)
In his farewell speech, Coates made it clear that he believes the Voting Rights Act protects all voters — and that, as a government lawyer, he couldn’t ignore violations of the law merely because the wrongdoers happened to be members of a minority group. Coates emphasized that race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act is essential to ensuring that America lives up to its creed of equal protection under the law. Selective enforcement of the law on the basis of race is not fair and does not achieve justice.
Coates’ imminent testimony before the Civil Rights Commission no doubt will be extraordinary.
The DOJ smear machine urged the left to demonize Adams as a “disgruntled” employee (despite his promotion weeks before his resignation) and to dismiss his testimony as uncorroborated (despite several sworn affidavits in his support). How will the smear machine react to Coates’ direct eyewitness testimony?
On a personal note: I have known Chris Coates since working with him when I was a career lawyer in the Civil Right Division. He is one of the most experienced, professional, and ethical lawyers I have had the honor of working with. His offer to testify in compliance with the commission’s subpoena, despite the unlawful efforts of the Justice Department to prevent his testimony, is one more example of his character.
Coates is risking his job and career at the Justice Department to do the right thing, which is itself a terrible injustice. We only can hope that his superiors at DOJ will realize that whistleblower laws exist to protect patriots such as Chris Coates. Let’s also hope that other career lawyers will realize it isn’t worth risking their reputation to follow illegal or unethical orders.