Christopher Coates has been the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ most-wanted man. Last Friday, the commission finally got him. Bravely defying an order of the Department of Justice, Coates appeared before the commission to testify on the New Black Panther Party case, which has provoked such interest — at first only in the conservative media, but now, after his testimony, with a front-page, above-the-fold story in the Washington Post.
A former chief of the voting section in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Coates had inside knowledge that the commission was eager to hear. It was seeking an answer to a core question in the case: Why did the Justice Department decide it sufficed to obtain an injunction against only one Panther — King Samir Shabazz, the man with the nightstick? The injunction forbids Shabazz to display a weapon within 100 feet of an open polling place on any election day in Philadelphia — but only until November 15, 2012. And no penalty was imposed on his companion, Jerry Jackson, or on the organization itself.
Coates delivered a simple message: The Obama Justice Department is not interested in aggressively pursuing cases in which the defendants are black. The department, Coates said, believes the Voting Rights Act protects black, but not white, voting rights.
Racial double standards at the Justice Department: shocking news. Or is it?
It certainly should be. But in fact, if racial double standards indeed drove DOJ’s decision to substantially drop the case against the New Black Panther Party, as Coates asserted, the department was simply taking one more step along a sad road we have long been traveling.
The authors of this article have both made our careers opposing racial preferences — in education, hiring, contracting, and voting rights. And federal law — and, in many places, state and local law, too — is rife with them. Race-conscious provisions appear to be programmed into the computers of most of the Hill staffers who craft legislation; the judiciary has long borne much of the blame; and federal bureaucrats in this area have never been colorblind.
Most Americans probably believe that the Voting Rights Act has provided equal protection for minority and white voters alike. Would that it were so! Alas, the historical story does not fit that pattern: We are stuck with, instead, the evolution of the statute from a pure anti-discrimination law to one that has become an instrument for affirmative action.
Beginning in the 1970s, blacks came to be treated as politically different — entitled to inequality in the form of a unique political privilege. “Majority-minority” legislative districts that ensure the election of black (and, after 1975, Hispanic) candidates became a federal mandate. These districts, which Justice Sandra Day O’Connor called “segregated,” protect minority voters’ “candidates of choice” from electoral defeat, giving these voters a sheltered status enjoyed by members of no other groups.