Despite warnings from the DOJ, federal prosecutor Christopher Coates today testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, appearing, as Chairman Gerald Reynolds put it, “at great personal risk to himself.”
Coates’ testimony backed up testimony given by fellow voting-rights prosecutor J. Christian Adams, including the charge that political appointees in the Obama administration spiked the voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party.
The prosecutor, Christopher Coates, also said the downgrading of the case against the New Black Panther Party was evidence of a Justice Department culture which discouraged “race neutral” enforcement of civil rights laws, frowned on prosecuting minority perpetrators and folded under pressure from black and Latino rights groups. Coates told the panel that the culture intensified in 2009 – and led to his demotion from leading the voting rights division – after President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder took office.
“They have not pursued the goal of equal protection of the law for all people,” he said.
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Coates accused the Justice Department of caving in to outside influence groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which he said demanded that prosecutors drop the case. “Many of these groups act…as special interest lobbies for racial and ethnic minorities and demand not equal treatment but enforcement of the Voting Rights Act only for racial and language minorities,” Coates said.
The outcome of the New Black Panthers Party case, he said, confirmed his concerns that his superiors are interested only in protecting minorities.
When he objected, Coates said, the Justice Department tried to silence him, part of what he called “the hostile atmosphere that has existed within [Justice’s Civil Rights] Division for a long time against race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.”
On his decision to testify:
“I did not lightly decide to comply with your subpoena in contradiction to the DOJ’s directives not to testify,” Coates said. “If incorrect representations are going to successfully thwart inquiry into the systemic problems regarding race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act by the Civil Rights Division, problems that were manifested….in the New Black Panther Party case that end is not going to be furthered or accomplished by my sitting idly or silently by at the direction of my supervisors while incorrect information is provided.
“I do not believe that I am professionally, ethically, legally, or morally bound to allow such a result to occur.”
Coates also testified that colleagues in the Voting Section told him they were “opposed to bringing voting rights cases against African American defendants” in a majority-black area of Mississippi “until we reached the day when the socio-economic status of blacks . . . was the same as the socio-economic status of whites living there.”
Coates said a senior Civil Rights Division official also ordered him to stop asking job Justice Department job candidates if they would be willing to work on cases against minorities who violated equal-protection laws as well as cases filed against whites.