'Minorities Die First' Comments by DoJ's Voting Chief, John Tanner Continue to Reverberate in Advance of House Judiciary Hearings Next Week
National Journal Calls on the DoJ to Fire Tanner; Alternet Says His Recent Outreach to Latinos Suggests Still Further Politicization of the Civil Rights Division...
By Brad Friedman on 10/22/2007, 6:19pm PT  


Heat and new, disturbing allegations continue to build in advance of next week's House Judiciary Committee hearings featuring the DoJ's Civil Rights Division Voting Section chief, John Tanner, following on BRAD BLOG's exclusive report on his offensive comments at a recent event in Los Angeles. (A short video recap of his comments, courtesy of our friends at TPM, is at left.)

The video-taped comments prompted a letter from Barak Obama to the Acting Attorney General, calling for Tanner's immediate dismissal.

While that letter was covered far and wide, late last week, two different articles today, one at National Journal and one at AlterNet follow up on the matter, and offer additional concerns and allegations that are likely to come up during next week's hearing, tentatively scheduled for Oct 30th.

(NOTE: Our own Alan Breslauer, who taped Tanner's comments originally, hand-delivered a copy of the video to the House Judiciary Committee today, as he happened to be in DC on other business.)

Tanner told audience members during an October 5th panel in Los Angeles at the National Latino Congresso, that it was a "shame" that some elderly voters would, in fact, be disenfranchised by restrictive polling place Photo ID laws that he approved on behalf of the DoJ, but that minorities needn't worry because they "don't become elderly the way white people do. They die first."

National Journal's Eliza Carney notes, in her column today, that should AG-nominee Michael Mukasey be confirmed, "His first step should be to replace John Tanner with someone less patently biased and ill-informed."

While AlterNet's Steve Rosenfeld points out that it appears the Civil Rights Voting Section, under Tanner, has become politicized in its outreach to Latinos and Asian-Americans, in order to curry GOP votes, while completely ignoring (or even exasperating) polling place access issues for African and Native Americans...

Shoring up her reasoning for the need to fire Tanner, Carney notes, among our report and others, a recent letter from the ACLU to the Senate Judiciary Committee alleging "the department's Civil Rights Division has not only failed to advance civil liberties --- it 'has even gone so far as to switch sides from defending the civil rights of minority plaintiffs to opposing them.'"

She goes on to write that "Nothing illustrates Justice's blatantly partisan and discriminatory agenda better than recent public comments by John Tanner, the chief of the Civil Rights Division's Voting Section."

Carney quotes former DoJ Civil Rights Division attorney David Becker, who is now with People for the American Way (PFAW), as charging, "The Justice Department has been doing everything in its power... to engage in partisan motivated conduct that has had the effect of disenfranchising voters, particularly minority voters."

Meanwhile, Steve Rosenfeld over at AlterNet offers some fresh fodder to further that argument. His piece today notes Tanner's and the entire division's seemingly-politicized outreach to the Latino and Asian-American communities --- seen as more likely than other minorities to consider voting Republican --- while ignoring their duties to ensure accessibility to the polling place by African-Americans and Native Americans as they are charged to do under the Voting Rights Act.

Exhibit Number One are Tanner's recent now-infamous comments made to the National Latino Congresso here in Los Angeles, as well as his appearance last week at UC Berkeley at an event sponsored by their Latino Policy Forum.

"While the firing of several federal prosecutors who did not pursue partisan voter fraud cases has garnered national headlines," Rosenfeld notes, "the Voting Section's enforcement record has had far less scrutiny".

This summer and fall, Voting Section Chief John Tanner and other top attorneys have been reaching out to civil rights groups --- particularly Latinos --- with appearances to tout the Section's record since Tanner became chief in mid-2005. Their message, which will no doubt be repeated before the House Judiciary Committee next week, is under Tanner the Section has doubled the lawsuits filed --- most notably to enforce laws concerning bilingual election materials and assistance for Hispanic and Asian voters.

He then makes the case that while the division is marginally --- and rather unevenly --- pushing for Latino and Asian-American language equality at the polling place under Voting Rights Act mandates, they are largely ignoring access issues for just about all of the minorities they are supposed to be looking out for, particularly African-American and Native American communities.

Defending their man Tanner, in response to Obama's letter Friday, Rosenfeld quotes DoJ spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse's telegraphing the department's likely explanation to come in hearings next week: "Under Mr. Tanner's leadership, the Voting Section has doubled its production in lawsuits, from an average of eight new cases a year to 16 new cases. It has brought over twice as many lawsuits under the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act in five years as in the previous 32 years combined... including the first cases in history on behalf of Filipino, Vietnamese and Korean voters."

But that's exactly the problem, Rosenfeld argues in response: "when the minority language suits are contrasted with the Administration's sparse record of suing on behalf of African-American and Native-American voters, it looks like the Voting Section is selectively enforcing laws with partisan overtones --- because Latinos are seen as a constituency that increasingly is voting for the GOP."

"People are wondering why aren't you bring cases with voting and African-Americans --- what is the issue," Julie Fernandes of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights wonders. "How can it be that the biggest case involving discrimination in Mississippi [United States v. Ike Brown and Noxubee County] was brought on behalf of white voters."

Should make for interesting testimony next week, particularly in light of recent comments from House Judiciary's sub-committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

"I’m pleased that the administration has finally reversed course and agreed to allow Mr. Tanner to testify," Nadler
told TPM Muckraker just after Tanner's comments first surfaced, before going on to understate, "I hope that he will be as willing to provide lawmakers with the same candid views he has been providing at various public venues..."