With less than two months left until the conservative majority of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights loses control of the agency, the Republican and libertarian members are hoping to breath new life into the controversy over the Justice Department’s decision in the New Black Panther case by subpoenaing four more DOJ officials. The subpoenas — first announced at a meeting on Friday — show that depositions have been set up in mid-November, a TPMMuckraker review of the documents sent to the Justice Department shows.
The new subpoenas were sent to former acting Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Loretta King; her former deputy, Sam Hirsch; Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steve Rosenbaum, a career employee.
In an e-mail to the commissioners, DOJ’s Director of Federal Programs Joseph H. (“Jody”) Hunt accepted service of the subpoenas on behalf of the Department employees on Oct. 28. The Justice Department previously declined to comply with subpoenas issued by the commission on the issue and instructed two employees to ignore them (one DOJ employee quit and testified anyway, another stayed at DOJ but testified against their instructions). A DOJ spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new subpoenas.
Democratic Commissioner Michael Yaki, who walked out of the Commission’s meeting on Friday to deny the majority a quorum, said he took issue with the actions of the commission. “I don’t really see how at this point any further inquires serve either the mission of the Commission or the cause of civil rights, but I suppose that’s exactly the point they’re trying to make,” Yaki said.
In addition to testimony, the subpoenas request writings and documents related to the New Black Panther case as well information on the enforcement of voter intimidation laws more broadly. (Check out one of the subpoenas here).
Fernandes, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Division, has been a particular target of the commission and the former and current DOJ employees who have testified before it. Former Civil Rights Division lawyer J. Christian Adams said that Fernandes told the Voting Section last November that they new leadership had “no interest” in enforcing a provision of the law that says states should remove ineligible names from the voter roles. Adams claimed that Fernandes said, “It has nothing to do with increasing turnout, and we are just not going to do it.” Former Voting Section Chief Christopher Coates confirmed Adams’ testimony about Fernandes’ statements.
Regulations posted on the Justice Department website over the summer note that the National Voter Registration Act requires states make a “reasonable effort” to clean up the voter roles, but that it “does not require any particular process for doing so” and that “there is no federal process to be met.”
Voter role purges can often accidentally sweep up individuals who should be allowed to vote because they have similar names to dead people (or felons). Kansas Attorney General-Elect Kris Kobach aptly demonstrated that problem last week, when he cited “Alfred K. Brewer” as an example of a dead man in whose name votes were being cast; the Witchita Eagle later found Brewer, whose long-deceased father carried the same name, raking leaves in his front yard. Many voting rights experts point out that there is nearly no evidence of dead voters actually casting ballots.
Meanwhile, the Commission has canceled a meeting scheduled for Friday where conservatives would have tried to gather all five of the members who supported the New Black Panther Party probe to approve their interim report on the case. A draft of the report slammed the Obama administration’s handling of the voter intimidation case. Conservatives were unable to rally enough of their members to show up to vote on the report last Friday. A meeting has been rescheduled for Nov. 19.
President Barack Obama will replace two of the conservative officials on the Commission with his own appointees next month. But the end of conservative control of the Commission doesn’t mean an end to this story, as Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are expected to make it a priority come January.