As Commissioner Peter Kirsanow reported earlier, Rep. Lamar Smith sent a letter yesterday to President Obama asking him to appoint a special counsel to investigate not just the dismissal of the New Black Panther voter intimidation case but also “whether the Department has adopted a policy of enforcing voting rights laws in a racially discriminatory manner.” This puts the president in an interesting dilemma: Smith is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, and if the Republicans take back the House in November, Smith will become the chairman. Attorney General Eric Holder has essentially ignored Smith’s demands for information on the NBPP case for the past year — that’s not exactly behavior calculated to endear you to the chairman of the most powerful committee with jurisdiction over your department.
Today, the ante was upped even more. I just learned from a congressional source that all seven GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — Jeff Sessions, Orrin Hatch, Charles Grassley, Jon Kyl, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, and Tom Coburn — sent a letter to Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy demanding an oversight hearing of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ to investigate the dismissal of this case and the allegations of racialist enforcement of the civil-rights laws (PDF of the letter here). The senators cited sworn testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes instructed Division attorneys that they would not pursue cases against black defendants and that the DOJ has no interest in enforcing Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act.
As the senators correctly observe, if these allegations are true, the “Civil Rights Division is actively engaged in widespread politicization and possible corruption” and the Judiciary Committee has a duty to investigate allegations “that strike at the heart of the Department’s integrity.” The senators also say that holding a hearing on this issue “should take priority over other Committee business.” So how will Leahy and the Justice Department react to this demand? Consider two facts: (1) The Justice Department public-affairs flack who has been so dismissive of these serious allegations, Tracy Schmaler, is none other than Patrick Leahy’s former communications director at the Judiciary Committee, and (2) the DOJ has been stonewalling for a year and lawlessly violating Civil Rights Commission subpoenas with no criticism from Democrats in the House or the Senate.
These two letters raise the stakes and will make it more difficult for the liberal apologists in Congress to continue to ignore this story, though they may very well try to do that. Yet such apologists for the DOJ run a risk of voter anger and disbelief in November similar to what Rep. Brad Sherman (D., Calif.) experienced at his town hall meeting earlier this month.