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Politicizing Justice

Attorney General Eric Holder’s agenda begins and ends with delivering favors to Obama’s constituencies

Feb 25, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 23 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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Similarly, on February 17, 2009, less than a month after Obama took office, Holder, 62, the first African-American U.S. attorney general, celebrated black history month with a controversial speech to several hundred Justice Department employees in which he castigated America as “a nation of cowards” living in “race-protected cocoons” who needed to have “frank conversations” about racial inequality. The implication was that whites were in sore need of reeducation. In another speech Holder vowed to “revitalize the Civil Rights Division” at Justice. That had a special ideological meaning. In his 2008 address to the American Constitution Society, Holder had promised that if Obama won the election, his Justice Department would be “looking for people who share our values,” and that “a substantial number of those people would probably be members of the American Constitution Society.”

This amounted to a declaration that workaday civil-service hiring at Justice, supposed to be strictly merit-based, would be governed by the same political considerations that have traditionally governed hiring at the very top, where assistant attorneys general in charge of divisions are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the president. And so it was. According to hiring documents obtained by the PJ Media website under a 2011 court order (Justice had refused to provide the documents voluntarily under the Freedom of Information Act), the Voting Section made 16 new hires, among them Dan Freeman. The résumés of all 16 indicated involvement in liberal-activist causes ranging from abortion rights to amnesty for illegal immigrants. Many of the new hires had been directly involved in legal challenges to voter-ID laws, while others had tried to get state laws forbidding voting by convicted felons overturned (federal courts have declined to strike down the felon-disenfranchisement laws, which are permitted by the Fourteenth Amendment). The beefed-up Voting Section under Holder began an aggressive campaign against voter-ID laws, notably in South Carolina and Texas, invoking Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires changes in voting procedures in nine states (mostly in the South) and localities in seven other states to be approved by Justice in a process called “preclearance” before they can take effect.

Furthermore​—​and this is what Holder might have meant when he announced his intention to “revitalize” the 350-lawyer Civil Rights Division—Holder’s division chief, Associate Attorney General Thomas Perez, appointed by Obama in 2009, seemed to reverse abruptly a Bush administration policy of strict race-neutrality in enforcing voter-fraud and voter-intimidation laws. According to Who’s Counting?, a book about election fraud by National Review columnist John Fund and Bush-era Civil Rights Division counsel Hans von Spakovsky, Holder’s Justice Department canceled an investigation into allegedly stolen ballots in black-majority Noxubee, Mississippi, and dismissed a Bush-era lawsuit against the state of Missouri for failing to purge registration lists of deceased and no-longer-resident voters as required by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (according to the book, numerous counties in Missouri had more registered voters than residents).

The most notorious turnabout from Bush-era policy was a Justice Department decision, on May 15, 2009, to abandon most of a voter-intimidation lawsuit filed during Bush’s last weeks in office against the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which had stationed two men in Panther uniform, one of them videotaped wielding a nightstick, in front of a polling place in Philadelphia on Election Day 2008. Under Holder and Perez, Justice dropped charges against all the defendants except the man with the nightstick, King Samir Shabazz, against whom the department obtained a narrow injunction preventing him from displaying a weapon within 100 feet of a Phildelphia polling place through November 15, 2012. “We sat in stunned disbelief,” wrote J. Christian Adams, a former career Voting Section attorney who had helped file the Panther suit, in a 2011 book, Injustice: -Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department. “Our superiors had sided with thugs, and all we could do was silently look at each other, helpless and beaten.” Adams, who resigned from Justice in 2010, and Spakovsky were the driving forces at PJ Media behind the court order for the release of the Holder-era hiring documents.

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