President Obama plans to nominate the government’s top-ranking civil rights lawyer as the new secretary of Labor on Monday, a key position as the administration prepares to take on immigration reform.
Thomas E. Perez’s nomination had been expected, but the administration said last week that the announcement was not imminent. If confirmed by the Senate, Perez would be the only Latino in Obama’s second-term Cabinet. He is the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
An administration official said Sunday that Obama would name Perez to succeed Hilda L. Solis, a former member of Congress from California who decided to leave the Labor post. The other Latino in the first-term Cabinet, former Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, is stepping down as secretary of the Interior. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the nomination before the White House announcement.
Perez, a Harvard-educated lawyer, is a first-generation Dominican American with a long career in public service. Although Democratic supporters consider him a vigorous advocate of worker rights, he could face a challenge from Republicans angry about initiatives at the Justice Department.
Titled “Friends in High Places,” Rubin’s June 2010 expose in the Weekly Standard alleged that the “Obama Justice Department went to bat for the New Black Panther party—and then covered it up.” Rubin’s reporting on the New Black Panther voter intimidation case has now been eviscerated by not one but two internal investigations of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, though Rubin has gone out of her way to avoid recognizing this.
Rubin’s claim rested on the fact that, shortly after Obama took office, interim leaders of the civil rights division dropped some of the charges in a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party. The idea that the first black president of the United States and his black attorney general were going out of their way to protect an anti-white black fringe group fulfilled two right-wing fantasies—Obama as closet radical and his administration as an elaborate scheme of racial revenge against whites. The head of the civil rights division under Bush had broken civil service laws by seeking to purge liberals from the division and then lying to Congress about it, and, to conservatives like Rubin, the New Black Panther case was proof that the Obama Justice Department was no less politicized.
The problem, however, is that right-wing narrative is bogus. In 2011, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) found “no evidence that the decision to dismiss the case against three of the four defendants was predicated on political considerations.” The interim heads of the civil rights division had dropped some of the charges against the NBPP not because they’d been pushed to by the AG or the White House, but rather because they had discovered the conservative-leaning attorneys who filed the case had left out key—and possibly exculpatory—information. The OPR report also found, contrary to Rubin’s reporting and to right-wing allegations, that political higher-ups at the Justice Department had sought to prevent the New Black Panther Party case from being dismissed outright.
A second report on the topic, from the Justice Department Inspector General’s office, was released Tuesday. Like the OPR report before it, the IG report found that the decision to narrow the case was “based on a good faith assessment of the law and facts of the case.” Perhaps more importantly, the IG report found no evidence that the division “improperly favored or disfavored any particular group of voters.”
WASHINGTON—John Hall, 27, an Aryan Brotherhood member and inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Seagoville, Texas, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor after pleading guilty to violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, stemming from his assault of a fellow inmate, whom he believed to be gay, the Department of Justice announced. Hall assaulted his fellow inmate with a dangerous weapon, causing bodily injury to the victim on December 20, 2011. Hall was sentenced to serve 71 months in prison, to be served consecutively with the sentence he is currently serving.
The assault occurred on December 20, 2011, inside the FCI Seagoville when Hall targeted and attacked the victim, a fellow inmate, because he believed the victim was gay or involved in a sexual relationship with another male inmate. Hall repeatedly punched, kicked, and stomped on the victim’s face with his shod feet, a dangerous weapon, while yelling a homophobic slur. The victim lost consciousness during the assault and suffered multiple lacerations to his face. The victim also sustained a fractured eye socket, lost a tooth, fractured other teeth, and was treated at a hospital for the injuries he sustained during Hall’s unprovoked attack. Hall pleaded guilty to violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on November 8, 2012.
“Brutality and violence based on sexual orientation has no place in a civilized society,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to using all the tools in our law enforcement arsenal, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, to prosecute acts motivated by hate.”
“This prosecution sends a clear message that this office, in partnership with attorneys in the department’s Civil Rights Division, will prioritize and aggressively prosecute hate crimes and others civil rights violations in North Texas,” said U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas.
This case was investigated by the FBI Dallas Division. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Errin Martin and Trial Attorney Adriana Vieco of the Civil Rights Division.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear two cases challenging state and federal laws which prevent the legal union between same-sex couples.
But it’s not the only significant civil rights case the Court has decided to take up this term.
Last month, the Supreme Court said it will consider the constitutionality of a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the hallmark legislation from the Civil Rights era that has come under increased challenge.
The cornerstone provision is known as Section 5, which holds some states accountable to get federal clearance before making any changes to their voting laws.
Many think the Court’s decision to hear the case, announced just three days after the election, spells doom for the cornerstone provision. But whatever the justices’ decision, the case may end up, as the influential SCOTUSBlog put it, “as one of the most significant rulings of the current Term.”
Oral arguments in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, are set for next year, with a decision expected by June. Let’s take a step back and see why this case is so consequential:
What’s Section 5 again?
As we’ve explained before, Section 5 requires nine mostly Southern states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alaska, Virginia, Texas and Arizona — and areas of seven others to preclear any change to a voting law or procedure with the federal government.
This review is conducted by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice or a panel of federal judges on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. If a voting change hasn’t been submitted for review, the change can be legally unenforceable.
Section 5, which was enacted by the original Voting Rights Act, was meant to address the systemic disenfranchisement of African Americans by state lawmakers in the South since the end of Reconstruction.
Under the provision, covered jurisdictions must prove that any proposed voting change doesn’t have a discriminatory purpose or effect or would diminish minorities’ ability to elect a favored candidate.
Federal hate crime charges were filed today in Ohio against an Indiana man, Randolph Linn, who is a suspect in last weekend’s arson fire that heavily damaged the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.
Linn was charged with intentionally defacing, damaging and destroying religious property, and with using fire and explosives to commit a felony, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced.
“The Department of Justice will aggressively prosecute persons who attack, deface, or damage houses of worship because of racial or religious animus,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
A security camera image and a woman who recognized and identified the suspect played key roles in the case, officials say.
Law enforcement officials released still photos of the surveillance video to the media on October 1.
The woman told investigators that she knew Linn and that he had recently made anti-Muslim comments, complaining about the international Muslim community’s reaction to an offensive, anti-Islam video that sparked demonstrations in various countries, court documents say. The suspect also voiced anti-Muslim comments about recent attacks on U.S. embassies and the deaths of U.S. military personnel in the Middle East.
The woman recognized the suspect’s sweatshirt and told authorities that three months ago, Linn purchased a red SUV that matched the vehicle in the surveillance footage at the Islamic Center, according to court documents.
FBI — Final Missouri Defendant Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison for Vandalism and Arson of Biracial Man’s Home
WASHINGTON—A Missouri man was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for his role in the vandalism and arson of a biracial man’s home in Independence, Missouri, the Department of Justice announced.
David Martin, 24, of Independence, was sentenced in the Western District of Missouri by U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple.
On March 7, 2012, Martin pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the Fair Housing Act. Martin’s co-conspirators, Teresa Witthar and Charles Wilhelm, pleaded guilty on February 2, 2012, and March 8, 2012, respectively, for their roles in vandalizing and burning down Nathaniel Reed’s home in Independence.
According to the plea agreement filed with the court, Martin, Witthar, and Wilhelm conspired to intimidate and scare Reed, a biracial man, into moving out of the Highland Manor Mobile Home Park in Independence, in part because of his race. On or about June 6, 2006, Martin, along with Witthar and Wilhelm, entered Reed’s mobile home, without his permission, and vandalized it by writing at least 15 racially derogatory slurs on the walls of his trailer.
Two days later, on or about June 8, 2006, Witthar drove Martin and Wilhelm to a neighborhood behind Reed’s home so that they could set fire to his home without being detected. Witthar waited in her vehicle for Martin and Wilhelm to set the fire and then provided them a ride back to the Highland Manor Mobile Home Park.
“Every American has the right to live in their homes without fear of racially motivated violence,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Laws that prohibit these heinous acts.”
Witthar was sentenced to 63 months in prison on June 18, 2012. Wilhelm was sentenced to 42 months in prison on July 24, 2012.
FBI — Three Men Sentenced in Houston for Federal Hate Crimes Related to the Assault of African-American Man
The Justice Department announced that Charles Cannon, 26; Michael McLaughlin, 41; and Brian Kerstetter, 33, were sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt in Houston for their racially motivated assault of a 29-year-old African-American man.
Kerstetter was sentenced to 77 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Cannon was sentenced to 37 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. McLaughlin was sentenced to 30 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
On April 16, 2012, a federal jury found the defendants guilty of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was enacted in October 2009. The evidence at trial established that on August 13, 2011, the defendants approached the victim, who was waiting at a bus stop in downtown Houston. All three defendants were shirtless to display their tattoos known to reflect white supremacist beliefs. To further antagonize the victim, at least one defendant referred to the victim using a racial slur, and the defendants then surrounded and attacked the victim by punching and kicking him in the face, head, and body. The defendants were arrested at the scene after a passerby called 911.
“James Byrd was murdered 14 years ago not far from Houston because he was African-American, and today, these defendants have been sentenced under the critical new law enacted in his name for viciously attacking an African-American because of the color of his skin,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. “It is a sad reality that violent acts of hate committed because of someone’s race are not a thing of the past, and the department will continue to use every available tool to identify and prosecute hate crimes whenever and wherever they occur.”
“The passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 provided a powerful tool to law enforcement,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen L. Morris. “With today’s sentencing, the message is clear. Our communities will not tolerate hate, and individuals who commit such despicable bias-motivated crimes have been put on notice. They will be brought to justice and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
This case was investigated by the Houston Division of the FBI in cooperation with the Houston Police Department. Assistance was also provided by the Harris County, Texas District Attorney’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Saeed Mody and Special Litigation Co
WASHINGTON—The Department of Justice announced today that Gary Dodson, 33, of Waldron, Arkansas, was sentenced in Little Rock for his involvement in firebombing the residence of an interracial couple. On December 7, 2011, Dodson pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate civil rights, criminal interference with housing rights due to race, and possession of an unregistered firearm/destructive device. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson sentenced Dodson to 15 years in prison and three years of supervised release for the three counts of conviction.
During his plea, Dodson admitted that on the night of January 14, 2011, he attended a party where he and three other men, Jake Murphy, Dustin Hammond, and Jason Barnwell, devised a plan to firebomb the victims’ house. Dodson then drove the other men to purchase gas for the firebomb, and then Dodson drove everyone to the victims’ house in Hardy, Arkansas. When they arrived, Barnwell, Murphy, and Hammond constructed three Molotov cocktails and threw them at the house. They damaged the victims’ house; however, no one was injured.
Murphy and Hammond previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to and violating the civil rights of the victims. Both received sentences of 54 months’ incarceration and three years of supervised release. In June 2011, Wendy Treybig, who co-hosted the party on January 14, 2011 with Barnwell, pleaded guilty to obstructing justice. She was sentenced on December 13, 2011, to 21 months’ incarceration and three years of supervised release. Jason Barnwell pleaded guilty on August 26, 2011 and was sentenced on January 27, 2012 to 20 years’ incarceration.
“With today’s sentencing, we can finally close the book on this terrible incident of racial hatred,” stated Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez. “The sentence reflects the gravity of these kinds of crimes. The Civil Rights Division will continue to pursue justice in hate crimes such as these, where victims are targeted because of the color of their skin.”
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Christopher R. Thyer said, “The very strength we have in our communities is a result of the diversity of its people. Those who perpetrate crimes against others solely because of racial differences will find, as these four defendants have, that there is a price to pay. The laws that protect our communities leave no tolerance for hate crimes.”
This case was investigated by the Little Rock Office of the FBI and the Little Rock Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, with assistance from the Arkansas State Police, the Hardy and Waldron Police Departments, and the Scott and Sharp County Sheriff’s Offices. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White of the Eastern District of Arkansas and Trial Attorneys Cindy Chung and Henry Leventis of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
Mark Gautreau, 50, was sentenced today in federal court in New Orleans to 72 months in prison for shooting two Hispanic men on the Bonnet Carre Spillway in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana on August 20, 2006.
In November 2011, Gautreau pleaded guilty to one count of assault with a dangerous weapon within the maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
In the factual basis supporting his plea, Gautreau admitted he was in a parking lot in the spillway when he told a bystander that he intended to “shoot some Mexicans.” Gautreau admitted that he then loaded ammunition into his 12-gauge shotgun and drove off toward the area where four Hispanic men were fishing. Once he reached them, Gautreau got out of his truck and fired his shotgun one time. The shotgun blast hit two of the Hispanic men, who suffered injuries that required hospitalization. Gautreau admitted that the four Hispanic men did not shoot at him or threaten him in any way that would require him to defend himself.
“Justice has been met for the two Hispanic men who were the victims of a random act of violence,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The department is committed to vigorously enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws.”
“Together with our partners in the Civil Rights Division, who led this important prosecution, and the FBI, we will remain true to our commitment to fiercely protect the rights of all within our borders to be free from abuse and violence,” said James Letten, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of an unarmed black teenager’s shooting death in Florida may reflect a trend of more aggressive hate crime prosecutions during the Obama administration.
The department has said it opened a civil rights probe into the Feb. 26 slaying of Trayvon Martin, 17. A neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, told police that he shot Martin in self defense. Authorities are looking into whether Zimmerman used a racial slur before pulling the trigger, the Washington Post reported.
There were 66 federal hate crime prosecutions in the first three years of President Barack Obama’s administration compared to 49 during the last three years of the Bush administration. The cases include physical assaults, cross burnings and attacks on houses of worship that were motivated by reasons such as race and ethnicity, prosecutors said.
“This administration has proven it’s very willing to pursue the most challenging cases even where they would not be criticized for walking away,” said David Douglass, a former Justice Department lawyer in the unit that handles hate crime cases in the early 1990s.
The Justice Department won’t comment on whether it’s pursuing the shooting in Sanford, Florida as a hate crime, said Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general who oversees the department’s civil rights division, in a conference call with reporters yesterday. “We’re in the fact-gathering stage,” Perez said.
Douglass and other former Justice Department lawyers said that’s the department’s likely focus. Yesterday, 14 Democrats on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking that he “explore the applicability” of the hate-crime statute and other federal laws. No charges have been filed against Zimmerman.
Finding evidence that proves race was a motivating factor may be difficult in the Florida case, said Douglass, a lawyer at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP in Washington.
Speaking at the White House today, Obama said it’s “imperative” that “every aspect” of the case be investigated to determine what happened.