|For Immediate Release
June 1, 2011
Contact: Kim Smith Hicks, 202-225-3951
Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith
Subcommittee on the Constitution
Oversight Hearing on the Justice Department Civil Rights Division
Chairman Smith: Congressional oversight is necessary to improve the operation of the executive branch and its responsiveness to the American people.
Unfortunately, since 2009, there have been troubling allegations about the conduct of the Civil Rights Division and its personnel.
First, the Department dismissed most of its voter intimidation cases against the New Black Panther Party.
Then, it was alleged that a Deputy Assistant Attorney General instructed voting section staff that the Division will only bring cases for the benefit of racial minorities. This person is also alleged to have said that the voting list maintenance requirements of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act will not be enforced.
Then, more recently, comments allegedly were made at a January voting section training session indicating that voting rights laws were not to be enforced in a race neutral manner during the current redistricting cycle.
Most troubling about these allegations is that they constitute a clear pattern. If the administration is choosing whom to protect based on skin color, the American people should know that there is not equal justice under the law.
In January I wrote Attorney General Holder advising him that I had initiated an inquiry into the Division’s enforcement of federal voting rights laws. This inquiry is focused on whether the Division has adopted a practice of race-based enforcement of these laws.
The Attorney General gave me his personal commitment to make available any information necessary for the Committee to perform its oversight function. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed that the Department’s actions have failed to live up to the Attorney General’s promised cooperation.
Since January I have made two separate, reasonable, straightforward requests for information as part of this inquiry.
While the Department has provided some documents of limited relevancy in response, it has withheld a number of other responsive and highly relevant documents based only on a vague assertion of a “confidentiality interest”.
Yet confidentiality is not a recognized privilege. Transparency is critical for a government to function properly. The Department appears to have concocted a “confidentiality interest” to hide important information from the American people.
After the close of business last Friday and with this hearing looming, the Department offered to make some of the withheld documents available for Committee review. However, the Department placed unacceptable conditions on this offer.
It is improper for the Department to dictate to this Committee how it should make use of information that is responsive to a legitimate oversight request. I would ask that the Department’s May 27th letter and my response dated May 31st be made part of the record.
It’s time for the Department’s game of hide-and-seek to end and for it to respond and cooperate. Its actions have not only been inconsistent, they have contradicted the Attorney General’s assurances to me.
Congressional oversight is the constitutional duty of Congress. This Committee is conducting a legitimate oversight inquiry into the Department’s enforcement of federal laws. As such, absent a claim of executive privilege, it has an unassailable right to receive the documents responsive to my requests that the Department continues to withhold.
Mr. Perez, I hope your appearance today will help the Committee move forward with its inquiry. I also hope that the Department will provide the requested documents to the Committee.