In a letter today, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) urged the acting attorney general to fire voting rights section chief John Tanner. Citing Tanner's remarks earlier this month that "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do: They die first," Obama wrote that "Through his inexcusable comments, Mr. Tanner has clearly demonstrated that he possesses neither the character nor the judgment to be heading the Voting Rights Section." He concluded: "For that reason, I respectfully request that you remove him from his position."
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Tanner made the comments as justification for his decision to overrule Justice Department staff attorneys and approve a Georgia voter ID law that was subsequently halted by a federal appeals court. Tanner made the novel argument that such laws actually discriminate against whites.
Things are only getting worse for Tanner. In a couple weeks, he'll appear before the House Judiciary Committee, where he'll get to explain personally to its 78 year-old African-American chairman that minorities don't "become elderly." He'll also have to explain why he took the unprecedented step of publicly assuring officials in Columbus, Ohio that there had been no discrimination against African-Americans in the allocation of voting machines for the 2004 election. The fact that African-Americans had to wait in long lines deep into the night, he said, was due to "the tendency" for "white voters to cast ballots in the morning" and "for black voters to cast ballots in the afternoon."
This is second time this month that Obama has come out hard against a controversial figure from the Civil Rights Division. Earlier, he joined with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) in blocking the nomination of Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission.
Obama's letter is below.