Rubin still flat wrong about Black Panther nonsense
Jennifer Rubin responds to yesterday's post on how Republicans have manufactured a scandal out of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case:
Let's take them in order. Adam asserts: "Republican congressmen Lamar Smith and Darrell Issa are literally accusing the Obama administration of favoring 'a political ally -- the New Black Panther Party.'" This is wrong. The issue is whether a meritorious claim of voter intimidation was dismissed under pressure from left-leaning civil rights groups and whether there is reason to believe there is a sentiment against a color-blind application of civil rights laws. This point has been made repeatedly by the now-House Judiciary chairman, as well as by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.).
This is the most fascinating definition of "wrong," I've ever seen. I wasn't making an "assertion," I was literally quoting from a press release sent out by Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in which they stated, "We've already seen this administration dismiss one case against a political ally -- the New Black Panther Party -- for no apparent reason." I don't think Rubin finds this accusation ridiculous so much as she finds it hard to defend -- the title of her piece on the NBPP case, after all, is "Friends in High Places."
A slight tug on thread of this accusation reveals the feverish alternate universe of racial resentment in which some conservatives seem to reside. It's not just that they casually accuse the president and the attorney general of being "allies" with a black hate group, it's the implication that there was some political benefit to this relationship, as though the black community as a whole is somehow deeply moved by the NBPP's racial hatred, and the narrowing of the case represents a kind of quid pro quo. We're supposed to believe that without the racist rhetoric of the New Black Panther Party, black people would never have been motivated to go to the polls for Barack Obama? That black separatism has some broad mainstream appeal among African-Americans? This gets more disgusting the more one thinks about it, which is why conservatives rarely go beyond mere implication.
As to whether or not there is "colorblind" enforcement of civil rights laws, I find the use of the term in this context, by both liberals and conservatives, to be a symptom of America's near-pathological affinity for political correctness. The Civil Rights Division was created by President Dwight Eisenhower in order to ensure that the federal government could enforce the civil rights of black Americans in the South during Jim Crow. There's no question that civil rights laws cover Americans of all backgrounds -- and indeed, the voting section under Obama has intervened on behalf of white voters. But civil rights enforcement can't be anymore "race-neutral" than our own society or history. Ensuring that people's rights are protected regardless of race can't actually be achieved through color-blindness.
When Rubin writes that the question is whether "there is reason to believe there is a sentiment against a color-blind application of civil rights laws," what she's really saying is that the lawyers in the Justice Department need to prove they aren't racist. Their intervention on behalf of white voters notwithstanding, there's no way to prove this to conservatives' satisfaction -- and conservatives don't want it proven. They just want to keep raising the question, because it allows them to continue suggesting that the president is racist against white people.
Next, Adam claims that the case was not dismissed. This is inaccurate. It was dismissed against the New Black Panther Party and two individual defendants. The remedy sought against the remaining defendant (not to brandish a weapon near a Philadelphia polling place) is meaningless, since such action is already prohibited by law.
Again, Rubin seems to be mistaking the facts she wants for the ones she has. The Justice Department obtained an injunction against the NBPP member with a weapon; that this remedy is unsatisfying to her does not change the fact that it was obtained. There isn't any evidence that King Samir Shabazz's actions were part of a nationwide effort by the NBPP to intimidate white voters, not the least of which is because a mostly black voting precinct in Philadelphia is a bad place to go if one wants to scare white people out of voting.
Adam also errs in claiming that U.S Commission on Civil Rights co-chairman Abigail Thernstrom contends that the case lacks merit. In fact, since the testimony of Chris Coates and the revelations from the Judicial Watch FOIA, Thernstrom has been silent publicly and refused to vote on the interim report or sign letters seeking additional information. I would encourage Adam to interview her to obtain her latest take on the case.
Professor Thernstrom has not retracted her comments to Politico about the conservative commissoners deliberately trying to "topple" the Obama administration. I've contacted Professor Thernstrom, who would not comment on the record but assured me that I did not mischaracterize her views.
Next, he is wrong on whether there was voter intimidation. The affidavits of poll watchers attest that there was. Moreover, the poll workers, who are also covered by the Voting Rights Act, were plainly menaced by the defendants.
Again, we have Rubin's odd definition of "wrong," which appears to mean, "factually accurate." There have been no voters who have come forward and said they were intimidated, and the Republican poll watchers alleging voter intimidation haven't produced any. Again, Rubin is alleging a "blatant" case of voter intimidation requiring the full attention of several government agencies and Congress itself without any actual intimidated voters.
As to the accusations against Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes, the accounts of two former Justice Department employees are in full agreement on the essential fact: Fernandes instructed the attorneys not to bring cases against black defendants. But let's call Fernandes to the stand and get her take.
So Rubin isn't actually contesting that when she wrote that Fernandes "instructed Department attorneys not to pursue cases against African American defendants," this was an assertion of something as fact that in reality is contested by the contradictory testimony of the conservative attorneys making the claim. Again, the testimony of one attorney was that Fernandes said the Civil Rights Division was in the business of doing "traditional civil rights work," which he interpreted as "helping minorities." It's unclear why anyone who finds "helping minorities" so viscerally objectionable would be working in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, except when you consider that the person was hired at a time when a background as a Republican political operative was more important than actual experience in civil rights law.
As for Adam's reference to a case brought against a black defendant, the Ike Brown case was filed during the Bush administration over the extreme objection of liberal department attorneys and civil rights groups who don't believe non-traditional victims of civil rights laws should have the benefit of the government's protection.
And yet those "liberal department attorneys" running the division, supposedly hostile to helping whites, subsequently extended the injunction against Ike Brown. There's no way to reconcile this without either concluding that the accusations of racism are unfounded or that the Justice Department is simply covering up its "get whitey" agenda.
At least one of the attorneys involved in that case, Robert Kengle, has said that he didn't object to the Ike Brown case being filed, he objected to the fact that the Bush administration was ignoring similar cases involving intimidation of minorities. The Government Accountability Office's report on civil rights enforcement during the Bush era backs up his claims that recommendations by career attorneys to pursue such cases were dismissed. Neither Rubin nor any other conservatives have expressed any interest in exploring any of those.
Rubin writes "I'm not sure what the list of complaints that Adam enumerates about a variety of Bush era policies have to do with this." Everything. The former voting section attorney who first testified before the commission has a background as a conservative activist, which, according to one former section chief, was why he was originally hired. The former voting section chief, Christopher Coates, who corroborated (and, in the case of Fernandes, contradicted) his charges was referred to by disgraced Bush-era civil rights division head Bradley Schlozman as "a true member of the team."
In his testimony, Coates said Schlozman was merely trying to "diversify" the division. Schlozman, on the other hand, said he wanted to "gerrymander all of those crazy libs rights out of the section." The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility and the Inspector General called it violating civil service laws. Yet Rubin suggests that Coates is a credible source on what constitutes neutrality in law enforcement.
The GAO found a "a significant drop in the enforcement of several major antidiscrimination and voting rights laws" during the Bush administration. Republicans yawned. Now they've latched onto a single case in which no voters were intimidated to allege a racist conspiracy in the Justice Department that demands by my count at least four investigations -- but only because it might involve what Rubin refers to as "non-traditional victims of civil rights laws." By which she means white people. Conservatives' priorities here speak for themselves, and they aren't what anyone could describe as "race-neutral."
Rubin's rather interesting phrase, "victims of civil rights laws," is unintentionally revealing, since what I assume she actually means is victims of discrimination. Some conservatives regard federal civil rights laws as a form of unwarranted federal intervention or as "discriminatory" against whites, since they involve the federal government securing certain inalienable rights against the kind of cultural pressures they see as integral to a healthy society. This whole "scandal" isn't really about "race neutral" enforcement of civil rights laws. It's about discrediting the whole concept of civil rights enforcement by undermining the legitimacy of the federal agency charged with doing so.
If there was any misbehavior, I'm sure the OPR/IG investigations will uncover it--there's no evidence that sustains the outrageous accusations conservatives have made thus far.
| January 4, 2011; 12:18 PM ET
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