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A Leadership of Cowards?
Why is Eric Holder embarrassed about enforcing civil rights in Noxubee County?


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Hans A. von Spakovsky

None of these voting abuses in Noxubee County surprised the career lawyers at the Bush administration’s Civil Rights Division when they filed suit against Brown and the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee in 2005. Brown’s exploits were legendary. In fact, he had issued an open letter to county voters years before, urging them to “Keep Hope Alive [and] Vote Black in ’95.” Yet the Clinton administration’s Civil Rights Division consistently refused to take action.

This is probably one of the worst cases of intentional voting discrimination that the Justice Department has prosecuted since the 1960s. But the lawsuit was filed only after a vicious internal fight in the Civil Rights Division. Left-wing career lawyers in the Voting Section made it abundantly clear that they didn’t want to use the Voting Rights Act to protect white voters, no matter how egregious the violations. The former Voting Section chief even deleted the recommendation to file suit from the memo sent up to the Bush political appointees running the division. Other partisan career lawyers refused to work on the case. One who went to Noxubee County as an observer admitted to another lawyer that if he had seen the same type of illegal behavior being committed against black voters, he would have been outraged. But he wanted nothing to do with a suit filed on behalf of white voters.

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Fortunately, the honest trial attorneys on the case did their best to ensure that the division’s political leadership knew about Brown’s outrageous conduct, and litigation was ultimately approved. Thanks to their hard work, the court found that the defendants had “intentionally discriminated against the county’s white voters in violation of § 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” “engaged in improper, and in some instances fraudulent conduct,” and “committed blatant violations of state election laws . . . for the purpose of diluting white voting strength.” These trial attorneys endured significant criticism and abuse from their colleagues for their work on the case and probably jeopardized their career advancement.

If the races had been reversed, does anyone doubt this would have been front-page news? Or that Eric Holder would have been prominently quoted in a Justice Department press release calling attention to this outrageous discrimination? The Department of Justice should be proud of this victory. If Attorney General Holder is serious about talking about race, perhaps he could start with this case.

— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a visiting legal scholar at the Heritage Foundation. He is also a former commissioner on the Federal Election Commission and counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice.



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