Washington Holder defends Justice on gays, Philly voting case

By Pete Yost

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday defended the Department of Justice's performance on issues including gay rights, prescription drug trafficking and a Philadelphia voting rights case under pointed questioning by newly energized Republicans who have taken control of the House.

At a four-hour appropriations subcommittee hearing, Holder was criticized for the Democratic administration's decision to stop defending the constitutionality of a federal law banning recognition of gay marriage.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Frank Wolf, of Virginia, said the move was inappropriate and it almost looks more like "a political decision than anything else."

Holder responded that the step taken last week was unusual but is appropriate because lower courts have declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and the legal landscape on gay rights has changed since DOMA became law 15 years ago.

Republicans on the panel also hammered away at Holder on the Department of Justice's handling of voting rights accusations against the New Black Panther Party. During the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, the department investigated complaints that New Black Panther leaders King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson intimidated white voters at a Philadelphia polling place during the 2008 presidential election. The department under the Obama administration obtained a narrower civil court order against the conduct than officials in the Bush administration had sought.

Under questioning, Holder said the department enforces the law regardless of race and has done a good job in making determinations on how to use its resources in the area of civil rights enforcement.

Subcommittee Republicans disputed that, pointing to a report by the conservative-dominated U.S. Commission on Civil Rights criticizing the department on the Black Panthers case.

Two lawyers who formerly worked in the department's Voting Rights section have described hostility from senior officials and career attorneys to pursuing Voting Rights Act accusations against minorities who harass white voters.

Newly appointed House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said the Department of Justice has been doing an inadequate job of stopping the flow of illegally obtained prescription drugs to states such as Kentucky from the point of origin for most of the trafficking, Broward County, Fla.

"It's an absolute disgrace" with so many people involved in the illicit trade flying back and forth to Florida that "they call it the OxyContin Express," complained Rogers.

OxyContin is a prescription medication used to relieve moderate to severe pain.

"Crook doctors operating these pill mills" are out of control, complained Rogers, who demanded that Holder do something. Rogers said that "my people are dying."

"They're not your people," Holder replied. "They're my people; they're American citizens."

Holder said the department's Drug Enforcement Administration is working with state and local police and is "using the tools we have. ... We're dead serious about this issue."

Published: Thu, Mar 3, 2011

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »