Dem: Civil Rights Commission Went ‘Completely Overboard’ With Holder Letter

The conservative majority of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights today approved two letters addressed the Attorney General Eric Holder, alleging that the Justice Department is not enforcing civil rights laws in a race-neutral manner.

Expected to hit the press just weeks ahead of the midterm elections, a draft version of the commission’s 2010 enforcement report — focusing on DOJ’s handling of the New Black Panther Party case and the alleged culture of hostility to pursuing cases against African-American defendants — is circulating amongst the commissioners. They were asked at Friday’s meeting to have their comments in by Oct. 11 to allow a revised report to be sent out Oct. 15. The commission will vote to approve the report on Oct. 22.At a meeting on Friday, Michael Yaki — the only Democratic member in the commission in attendance — strongly criticized his conservative counterparts, stating that with their letter to Holder, the commission “has gone completely overboard.”

One of the letters, authored by Todd Gaziano, states that the investigation focuses on “growing evidence of a culture of hostility in the Civil Rights Division to the race-neutral enforcement of the civil rights laws that may involve both supervisory attorneys and some of your political appointees.” The other letter questions the statements made before the commission by Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez and asks for Holder to turn over more documents which DOJ has withheld.

“I would object to the sending of a letter in terms of the specific contents of the subject anyway, but the subject of this letter is simply beyond the pale. It’s so far beyond it’s almost laughable,” Yaki said.

Yaki also criticized the two main sources of the information about the Civil Rights Division, J. Christian Adams and Christopher Coates, who both have strong ties to conservative politics and to the politicization of the division under the Bush administration.

“This is the classic rhetorical and political exercise of asking someone ‘When did you stop beating your dog?’ or something like that because it assumes facts and evidence that simply do not exist, and doesn’t even begin to address the troubling difficulties in the testimony and the bias of Mr. Coates and Mr. Adams,” he said.

“Somehow, we create heroes out of Mr. Coates and Mr. Adams when they sat idly by and did not go to this commission, did not go to Congress, did not go to the press during episodes during the previous administration,” Yaki said.

“This is just ridiculous, this is a travesty, I can’t believe that we are engaged in this kind of conduct, I can’t believe that we would be writing a letter filled with such overbroad and undistinguished language,” Yaki added.

But conservative commissioner Peter Kirsanow, participating in the meeting via phone, said that the media was “besmirching of the reputation of fine individuals, who at considerable peril to their own careers, came forward or resigned in order to testify as to the disturbing pattern which does exist within the Department of Justice.”

As TPMMuckraker has documented, the New Black Panther Party civil voter intimidation case was filed in the waning days of the Bush administration. A video shot by an individual working with the Republican Party in Philadelphia showed two members of the fringe group standing outside of a poll station on Election day 2008, one of them holding a nightstick. It went viral on YouTube, and became a focal point in conservative media outlets. GOP and Tea Party groups have used it as reason for why activists should become poll watchers.

Check out TPM’s previous coverage of the New Black Panthers here.

(ed. note: A commissioner’s name has been corrected.)