Monday, December 28, 2009

Justice Department Voter chief fired while under subpoena

Main Justice is reporting that Christopher Coates, chief of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice has been fired.
Veteran Civil Rights Division attorney Christopher Coates is no longer chief of the Voting Section, according to the division’s Web site.

There was no official announcement of the personnel change in the long-troubled section, which most recently has been embroiled in the controversy over the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case. Main Justice noticed the change on the Voting Section Web site.

Taking over for Coates in an acting role is Chris Herren, a deputy chief of the section, according to the Web site.

Alejandro Miyar, a spokesman for the Civil Rights Division, wasn’t available for comment Sunday. Coates did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. It could not be learned whether Coates left the department entirely or transferred to another post.

Coates signed off on the controversial voter intimidation complaint against the New Black Panther Party and three of its members, filed in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration. The Obama DOJ’s decision to dismiss most of the charges in May has become a political controversy for the administration.
Last month after repeated requests for information from the Justice Department on the disposition of the Black Panther voter intimidation case, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued subpoenas to Coates and another Voting Section attorney, J. Christian Adams.  The Justice Department ordered them not to cooperate, citing "well-established" and "lawful" Justice Department guidelines.  David P. Blackwell, general counsel for the Commission clearly disagrees:
In your letter, you seem to contend that there is a question of the Commission’s authority to issue subpoenas to the Department or its employees. In this regard, your attention is directed to 42 U.S.C. §1975a(e)(2). This provision grants the Commission the authority to issue subpoenas forthe attendance of witnesses and the production of written documents or other materials. Thisprovision in no way prohibits or excludes requests directed to federal agencies or theiremployees.1 Indeed, you should be aware that, as recently as 2004, the Commission issued a subpoena, signed by then-Chair Mary Frances Berry, directed to R. Alex Acosta of the Civil Rights Division.2 In that instance, the Department met with staff from the Commission and fully cooperated in producing the requested information.

In the present case, beginning in June 2009, the Commission has consistently requested the voluntary production of information from the Department, without any success. It was only after the Department, by letter dated September 9, 2009, formally indicated that no information would be forthcoming (pending completion of an investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility), and subsequently ignored the Commission’s letter of September 30, 2009, that subpoenas were issued by the Commission. While your letter refers to an ongoing “dialogue” between the Department and the Commission, it is the dearth of cooperation on the part of the Department that has resulted in the Commission’s need to issue subpoenas.

There is particularly no justification for the ongoing delay in producing documents relating to past voter intimidation investigations. Despite DOJ's contention that there are few reported cases, the Commission has repeatedly explained its need for documents relating to all past investigations, filings, settlements, consent decrees, etc. in order to assess whether the DOJ's actions in the NBPP case constitute a change of policy.

In making the attached interrogatory and document requests, we are both mindful of the sensitivity of the subject matter involved and aware that, in response to similar requests, the Department has raised various concerns and matters of privilege. While such considerations carry weight, cooperation with Commission investigations is a mandatory statutory obligation. See 42 U.S.C. § 1975b(e) (“All federal agencies shall cooperate fully with the Commission to the end that it may effectively carry out its functions and duties.”). Moreover, due to the unique investigative role of the Commission – akin to that of a congressional committee3 – disclosure to the Commission of the information sought is both proper and required.
It is not known if Coates was terminated outright or reassigned within the Justice Department.  Either way, Eric Holder is standing firm on behalf of the Black Panthers.


  1. Isn't it pure speculation that this is related to the Black Panthers case? And, isn't it true that Coates was re-assigned to a different job, not fired?

    If you're doing your part to right the ship, shouldn't you be honest about it?

  2. If you actually read my post, you would know tht I was straight up about the fact that Coates may have been reassigned. Nevertheless, I stand by my premise that Holder is protecting the black panthers.