The Corner

Dr. Thernstrom, Are You Serious?

Abigail Thernstrom, vice chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, has written what Pete Kirsanow aptly described as a “bewildering” response to my column of a week earlier. I had taken issue with Thernstrom’s absurd claim that the Justice Department’s dismissal of the New Black Panthers voter intimidation case is “small potatoes.” I haven’t gotten around to replying yet, but Pete (Thernstrom’s fellow commmissioner) and former Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky (Thernstrom’s friend) have both demolished Thernstrom’s response.

There remain a few more things to say, but for now, I have a pressing question for Dr. Thernstrom: Are you serious?

In her NRO responsive essay, Thernstrom wrote:

I still have questions about DOJ’s conduct, and I remain interested in knowing more about why the department declined to pursue the case. I would thus join my colleagues in welcoming further testimony. I would love to hear firsthand from Christopher Coates about DOJ’s handling of this case. Similarly, I think the world deserves to know what Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes actually said about the Civil Rights Division’s enforcement priorities.

                    *                    *                    *

[M]y conservative colleagues on the panel have now shifted the focus of their investigation to the broader question of racial double-standards in the enforcement of voting rights — that is, whether the Obama DOJ has a policy of offering protections for black voters but not white ones. That issue greatly interests me, and I hope that the Justice Department will send additional representatives who will be willing to discuss the Commission’s old and new concerns. 

Dr. Thernstrom has a funny way of showing what “greatly interests” her.

On July 16, her colleagues on the Commission gave her a chance to put her money where her mouth is. They voted to ask the Justice Department for the testimony of Christopher Coates, the guy Thernstrom told NRO readers she’d “love to hear first-hand” from. The request is set forth in a letter sent yesterday to Attorney General Holder, signed by Commission Chair Gerald Reynolds. This short letter can be read in its entirety here, and Jen Rubin has posted the relevant parts of it at Contentions. But to put the letter’s requests in the words Thernstrom used, the Commission would like to ask Coates (a) “what Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes actually said about the Civil Rights Division’s enforcement priorities” (remember, that’s the thing Thernstrom told NRO readers “the world deserves to know”); and (b) “whether the Obama DOJ has a policy of offering protections for black voters but not white ones.”

Yet, at the July 16 hearing, Dr. Thernstrom refused to support the Commission’s request for this testimony. As Pete Kirsanow wrote in his post, replying specifically to Thernstrom’s claim that she would “join [her] colleagues in welcoming further testimony” from Coates and others with relevant knowledge of DOJ’s civil rights enforcement policy:

This is news to the other members of the Commission. On July 16, a majority of Commissioners approved a motion to once again request that the Justice Department produce the very witnesses that Thernstrom now claims she is interested in hearing from. The motion was crafted in a manner to circumvent the Justice Department’s year-long refusal to produce such witnesses.

Thernstrom refused to support the motion. [Emphasis in original.]

I find this jaw-dropping. I do not know Dr. Thernstrom — we’ve been introduced once, I think — but I have always admired her work. Consequently, it pains me to note that her responsive essay, which NRO published on July 27, was obviously written several days after the July 16 Commission meeting at which she would not support the motion to ask DOJ for the pertinent testimony.

Even if Thernstrom had not written a responsive essay, there would be no good reason for the Civil Rights Commission not to ask for the testimony sought in the letter. But let’s put that aside. How does Dr. Thernstrom justify telling NRO readers she is anxious to hear testimony for which she had refused to support a Commission request only days earlier?


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