« The bogus presidential "salesman" narrative | Main | Twitter roundup »

July 16, 2010


It's very disappointing to see Brendan's rush to judgment about the serious allegations that the Obama Administration has politicized the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Did Deputy Assistant A.G. Julie Fernades made the statement J. Christian Adams has said she did? Testimony from others who were present at the meeting should be able to establish that one way or the other, and evidence about whether there is such a bias in enforcement priorities can also be inferred by whether there has been any attempt by the Civil Rights Division to follow up on any claims of violation of the law. Why was there not more aggressive action taken against the NPBB members who wielded a baton outside a polling place? Accepting the left-wing Media Matters' biased discussion of the issue is not a substitute for a serious analysis of the case.

Obviously these matters will have some additional resonance because President Obama is multi-racial, but that shouldn't insulate his administration from a full public airing of the important issues involved. If the charges that have been levelled by Adams are false, let them be shown to be false after a thorough investigation, one that the Department of Justice cooperates with. That's the best way to remove the issue as a cudgel against Obama. But if the allegations are true, let's hope Brendan doesn't let President Obama's race blind him to the need for the Administration to take responsibility for politicizing enforcement of voter rights.

A common trick in political debates is to exaggerate an adversary's point so much that it sounds foolish or evil. To his credit, Brendan normally shuns this tactic. Rather, he exposes others who have used it.

So, I'm sure it was just a careless lapse that led to his claim that the New York Post had accused Obama of "trying to institute Islamic sharia law." In fact, the cited Post article accuses Obama only of nominating Harold Koh for a legal position.

Nor did the Post article accuse Koh of "trying to institute Islamic sharia law." It said Koh's stated position was that

JUDGES should interpret the Constitution according to other nations' legal "norms." Sharia law could apply to disputes in US courts.

There was nothing wrong with that Post article. It was based on the memory of someone who heard Koh's comments. The Post had evidently contacted Koh before publishing, because they had a response from his spokesperson, who didn't deny the charge. In fact, her comment partially supported it:

A spokeswoman for Koh said she couldn't confirm the incident, responding: "I had heard that some guy . . . had asked a question about sharia law, and that Dean Koh had said something about that while there are obvious differences among the many different legal systems, they also share some common legal concepts."

Subsequently, another person contacted the Post and said she and some others she had spoken to were at the event and did not recall Koh having made that comment. The Post duly published her comments.

At this point, I don't know whose memory is correct. Unfortunately, Koh's wrong-headed position regarding judges' use use of foreign law in their Constitutional reasoning is not uncommon. Justice Breyer unapologetically holds this position. He and Justice Scalia had a marvelous debate on this topic in 2005.

To me it seems plausible that a speaker advocating this position might be faced with the question of whether his willingness to use foreign law might conceivably extend to Sharia. It would hard for him to absolutely deny the possibility.

Media Matters represented whistle-blower Adams's accusations against the Justice Dept. as "unsubstantiated". Media Matters is wrong.

Sworn affidavits from Hans A. von Spakovsky and Karl Bowers, who worked with J. Christian Adams in the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, offer broad confirmation of the whistleblower's accusations of bias in enforcing voting rights.

Former FEC Commissioner Hans A. von Spakovsky: β€œI can confirm a number of facts stated by Mr. Adams in his testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about the voter intimidation lawsuit filed against the New Black Panther Party and several individual defendants.”

Civil Rights Division Attorney Karl Bowers: β€œIn my experience, there was a pervasive culture in the Civil Rights Division and within the Voting Section of apathy, and in some cases outright hostillity, towards race-neutral enforcement of voting-rights laws among large segments of career attorneys.”

IMHO anything from Media Matters should be independently checked. They are not a reliable source.

It's worth noting that neither Deputy Assistant Attorney General Fernandes nor the spokesperson for the DOJ has denied Adams's report that Ms. Fernandes said, "We have no interest in enforcing [the Motor Voter enforcement] provision of the law. It has nothing to do with increasing turnout, and we are just not going to do it."

The NBPP (my apologies for getting their initials wrong in my earlier post) case is, as Abigail Thernstrom said, small potatoes in and of itself. But the DOJ's politicization of the enforcement of voting rights and motor voter laws is not small potatoes. And trying to squelch public attention to this politicization by hiding behind President Obama's race is the worst kind of political expediency.

See also http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=DD3055BF-18FE-70B2-A836F25EC61EF57A

Eric Holder should seize on this controversy as an opportunity for the forthright national conversation on the issue of race that he believes the country has been too cowardly to engage in. For his Justice Department to fail to participate in this conversation seems, well, cowardly.

BTW, as for the right-wing media attention to the extreme statements by the NBPP, it's nothing compared to the media attention the left-wing and mainstream media has given to Fred Phelps and the motley assortment of his family that he calls the Westboro Baptist Church. Consider the New York Times's exhaustive coverage of Fred Phelps. Extremists always make good copy, and if they provide an opportunity to marginalize and tar those with whom one disagrees, apparently all the better.

as for right-wing media attention to the extreme statements by the NBPP, it's nothing compared to the media attention the left-wing and mainstream media has given to Fred Phelps and the motley assortment of his family that he calls the Westboro Baptist Church.

Phelps is roundly condemned by everybody, left to right, because his protests run the spectrum from "God Hates Fags" to "Thank God for Dead Soldiers". O'Reilly has called him a loon, Sean Hannity has called him sick and twisted and Fox has hundreds of articles about his antics.

This isn't a left-right issue, so maybe you should skip the false equivalency argument.

Jinchi, your observation strengthens Rob's point. Not only is Phelps unimportant, he isn't even a real conservative. Nevertheless, liberals do use him as a cudgel against conservatives. E.g., a commenter on a WaPo blog associates Phelps and Sarah Palin:

[Palin has] played the right-wing "Christian" Huckabees, white supremacist inbred Baptist cousins of Fred Phelps, for chumps for two years now. They eat it ups so the press feeds them more.

Randi Rhodes associates Phelps and Rush Limbaugh:

This is his death, Rush Limbaugh, this is George Steinbrenner's death! Is there any event that you can't turn into a platform for racism? Rush Limbaugh has ruined more funerals than Fred Phelps ever dreamed of ruining!

I mean, he's much more widely distributed than Fred Phelps' little Westboro Baptist Church out of freaking Kansas that goes to, uh, you know, our soldier's funerals with signs that say God hates the F-word. I mean, really, this is what we've degenerated into and you want to, what, say America's the greatest country in the world.

If one favors considering the laws of other countries, fine. They may be interesting, and may provide ideas that prompt us to change our laws. But until they are changed our laws, and only our laws, apply. Likewise our Constitution. Otherwise we have choas. Being well-intentioned doesn't matter. Grave errors have been made in the name of good intentions.
This principal is just as important for the executive branch as for the judiciary. Perhaps more important. Selective enforcement of the law is tyranny. Those with good intentions may think they are righting wrongs, protecting the weak against the strong, or whatever, but they are exercising power in an improper way. And their good intentions undermine the certainty people need to pursue their lives without fear.
How can we be on this slippery slope? Are we so ignorant, so poorly educated that people no longer see the danger? I'm amazed by much of what I read lately, but nothing concerns me more than reports of the government deciding which laws it will enforce and which it will not. Has no one heard of "banana republics"?
It is disheartening that people seem to have so little ability to reason their way to an ultimate conclusion. They don't want somebody arresting them in their bedroom under a sodomy law, but seem unconcerned when government passes laws about how much salt they can use, or how they cook their eggs. How about a law that prohibits one from traveling or owning a gun just because one's name appears on a list. No due process, no trial by a jury of one's peers. Holy cow! Add to that the uncertainty of capricious enforcement and adjudication and the risks of abuse are enormous. Read Kafka!

The comments to this entry are closed.