Christopher Coates, former Department of Justice voting rights section chief, has caused a furor after testifying in Congress on Friday that the Department of Justice is ignoring civil rights cases that involve white victims. He referenced the Department’s dismissal of a voter intimidation suit against the New Black Panther Party last year as part of his evidence, calling it a “travesty of justice.”
Coates went on to describe the path the suit had followed through the Justice Department before being dismissed. He asserted that he felt that voters’ rights were not being upheld equally, and that with the increasing diversity of America, the government had to oppose any racial or ethnic bias in civil rights cases.
Coates’ testimony has caused a huge debate both in national media and online, as people across the country weigh in, both in support of or to refute his claims. Coates’ assertions are being tied to similar claims made by former Justice Department attorney J. Christian Adams, who also called into question the Department of Justice’s decision to abandon the case.
Others insist that the voter inequality issues are more widespread and may be different depending on who’s in charge of the Department. Many point to the 2006 case against members of Arizona’s Minutemen, who allegedly used a video camera and a visible weapon to intimidate Hispanic voters at the polls. The Department of Justice ultimately dismissed that case as well, based in part on the decision of Thomas Perez, assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, who claimed that the case was simply “career people disagreeing with career people,” which “happens very often.” Critics of the decision and Adams’ assertions are quick to point out that he worked for the Department of Justice during that case.
In 2004, both political parties, but Republicans more specifically, were criticized by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie for bringing in challengers from Texas and D.C. to watch their polling and question voters’ eligibility. This sparked the state to adopt a new law preventing anyone who is not a resident of the state from questioning a Minnesota resident’s eligibility.
While the media and public debate whether or not there are instances of racial inequality in the Justice Department’s handling of civil rights suits, it seems much more obvious that a case can be convincingly built that there is a larger problem with voters’ civil rights in general. Countless allegations and charges of intimidation have been filed in the last few years in particular, based on both race and political affiliation. These issues should be addressed at large, as part of a broader, more pervasive problem.
PajamasMedia.com “Full Text of Christopher Coates’ Testimony to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”
FoxNews.com, “Voting Rights Official Calls Dismissal of Black Panther Case a ‘Travesty of
Jeremy Holden, “Christian Adams’ case continues to implode: Bush-era DOJ declined to charge Minutemen for voter intimidation.” MediaMatters.org
Pam Fessler, “Worries About Voter Intimidation Run High.” NPR.org