And therein lies the most likely answer to the mystery as to why the Obama team would want to undo a victory in a high-profile civil rights case. The notion that civil rights laws apply to all citizens, and are not on the books merely to protect minority groups or to pursue white racists, is an anathema to the liberal civil rights establishment and their sympathetic partners in the Justice Department.
Another attorney familiar with the inner workings of the Civil Rights Division agrees with this take. He observes that Department staff “openly and proudly advocate for a different standard” depending on the race of the alleged civil rights violator. He contends that this view extends now up to the attorney general and to staff attorneys who “say it openly at the Justice Department when the topic of ‘reverse’ discrimination comes up.” He explains:
The half dozen of these cases the Bush Justice Department filed (and won) are loathed and criticized openly in the halls of the Department by so-called committed civil rights attorneys. Open contempt for these cases establishes one’s civil rights bona fides, especially to the new political appointees in the Civil Rights Division.
“The Department must refocus on the traditional mission of civil rights enforcement.” These are well-understood code words to mean federal law will not be used to bring cases against black defendants or institutions that discriminate against whites. … Sometimes these people express contempt for fair enforcement of the law to people who silently agree that the law should be enforced fairly, but don’t dare let anyone know they think it.
This view is borne out by recent comments by Eric Holder, in explaining his hiring spree in the Civil Rights Division to the New York Times:
The division is “getting back to doing what it has traditionally done,” Mr. Holder said in an interview. “But it’s really only a start. I think the wounds that were inflicted on this division were deep, and it will take some time for them to fully heal.” . . . He described his Civil Rights Division efforts as more restoration than change. The recent moves, he argued, are a return to its basic approach under presidents of both parties — despite some policy shifts between Republican and Democratic administrations — before the “sea change” and “aberration” of the Bush years.
Translation: the civil rights laws will be interpreted and enforced not as protecting anyone who is discriminated against or intimidated on the basis of race, as the civil rights laws provide, but as protecting only those of certain races.
The dismissal of the New Black Panther case can then be seen in a larger and more ominous context. It was quite likely a message to the liberal civil rights establishment: there is a new Justice Department and the days of enforcing civil rights laws against any defendant — regardless of his race — are over. One can imagine then that there might be those in Justice surprised by the firestorm created by the New Black Panther case’s dismisal who may now regret having opened the Department and its civil rights perspective up to further scrutiny. The Holder Justice Department may be chagrined to learn that most Americans take exception, strongly so, to the idea that the civil rights laws are there only to protect historically discriminated minorities. But we are certainly going to have that national conversation about race which Holder has been pining for.