The conservative majority of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights today voted to approve what they are now calling an “interim” report on the Justice Department’s handling of the voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party.
Commissioners voted 5-2 along ideological lines to approve the report on their investigation, which started back in the summer of 2009. The vote came after talks between DOJ and the Commission to allow officials to testify on the case broke down because, the Justice Department says, of the “unilateral” terms set up by the Commission.
Michael Yaki, a Democrat on the Commission, said his colleagues had lost focus and were engaged in a “Beltway game” over an isolated incident that took place at a polling place in Philadelphia on election day in 2008.
“This commission has completely lost its focus,” said Yaki, who said the report “has been and continues to be far blown out of proportion, a waste of resources.” Yaki noted that he predicted back in October 2009 that this would be a “partisan kangaroo court,” and said “noting in the year and some since then has done anything to change my mind.”
Yaki noted that he wasn’t defending the New Black Panther Party, who he said were idiots and racists with a deplorable ideology. But he said that it was important to put it in context of the small number of voter intimidation lawsuits DOJ has filed in the history of the Voting Rights act and the partisan motivations of the key players who have complained about the case.
An earlier copy of the report obtained by TPM last month referred to unethical hiring during the Bush administration as ideological conflict. A previous vote on the report was delayed because conservatives on the commission could not maintain a quorum.
The report relies heavily on the testimony of former DOJ lawyer J. Christian Adams and current DOJ lawyer Christopher Coates, both of whom were tied to the politicization of the Civil Rights Division during the Bush administration.
TPM spotted Coates yesterday at a meeting of the conservative Federalist Society at the Mayflower hotel in D.C. He said he was still working for the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Carolina on a detail from the Justice Department. He said he had a lot of family in the area, but wasn’t sure what he would do once his one year detail came to an end early next year. Coates said he couldn’t comment on the commission’s vote on the report. He had previously testified that he believed the Civil Rights Division was opposed to the race-neutral enforcement of the law.
During the hearing on Friday, Commissioner Gail Heriot asked to amend the name of the report to “Race Neutral Enforcement of the Law? DOJ and the New Black Panther Party Investigation, An Interim Report.”
Yaki said the Commission was focusing on the isolated incident while ignoring the problems happening in the “real world.” Specifically, he said that the commission had not addressed the bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers and young adults, an issue that came to the fore after a rash of highly-publicized suicides of LGBT youth.
Commission Chairman Gerald Reynolds said that because the report was “improperly leaked” to TPM, the commission would post the commission’s report on their website within three business days. Yaki countered that Hans von Spakovsky, the controversial former Bush-era DOJ official, posted parts of a more recent leaked draft of the report online yesterday.
Todd Gaziano, one of the driving forces behind the report, made a few amendments to the report, and said that he’d “certainly refer to it as an interim report.”
With President Barack Obama set to replace two of the conservative commissioners next month, it is not likely the commission will continue to pursue the matter. House Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, however, are expected to investigate the case.
Late update: Andrew Ramonas pulls some other choice quotes from the meeting:
Republican Commissioner Peter Kirsanow conceded that the New Black Panther case alone “may not be the most important thing in the world.” […]
“What drew the attention of this particular commission was [the New Black Panther case] appeared to be, and is now confirmed by these two witnesses to be, a manifestation of a policy and practice engaged in by the Department of Justice,” Kirsanow said. […]
“It really reads like a bad script for a ‘Men in Black’ sequel,” Yaki said. “It has conspiracy theories, whispers of left-wing cabals, sinister forces at work tampering with witnesses, innuendo and rumor.”