Republicans on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee said today they don’t plan to give up on allegations that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is improperly considering race when deciding how to handle cases.
The dispute between conservative lawmakers and the Obama administration grew out of a 2008 case of alleged voter intimidation by members of the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia. During an investigation into that case, two voting-rights lawyers who have since left the Civil Rights Division accused an Obama political appointee of instructing staff not to pursue cases against minority defendants.
Democratic lawmakers say the dispute amounts to nothing, and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) today accused Republicans of mounting a “Willie Horton campaign, pure and simple,” a reference to a television ad campaign against 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he has made two requests for information from the Justice Department since January. He said the department has responded partially while withholding the documents he’s most interested in.
“Most troubling about these allegations is that they constitute a clear pattern. If the administration is choosing whom to protect based on skin color, the American people should know that there is not equal justice under the law,” Smith said at a hearing today.
The committee could attempt to subpoena documents or testimony, but Smith made no indication he plans to do so in the immediate future. He said he sent a new letter to the department on Tuesday requesting information.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division, defended the deputy who’s accused of improperly instructing staff about the race of defendants, Julie Fernandes. The race of a potential defendant plays no part in how department lawyers approach a case, he said.
“We don’t racially bean-count who the defendants are in our voting rights cases,” he said.
This week, The National Law Journal reported that the Civil Rights Division under Perez has hired back several lawyers who left during the George W. Bush administration, as part of a wave of new hires with civil rights experience. The New York Times has a similar report here.