Controversial Comments, First Reported by The BRAD BLOG, Lead to Re-Assignment at Office Which Oversees Claims of Discrimination in Immigrant Employment Practices
Civil Rights Division Staffers Reportedly 'Overjoyed', Though Suggest 'Incalcuable Damage' to Department 'Will Take a Very Long Time to Repair'...
By Brad Friedman on 12/14/2007, 11:04am PT  

The controversial head of the DoJ Civil Rights Division, Voting Section, John Tanner, finally resigned from his position as of 11am ET this morning...

Today, John Tanner resigned from his position effective immediately as chief of the Civil Rights Division's voting section. His resignation email, with the subject line "Moving On" was sent out at approximately 11 AM to voting section staff. He said that he will be moving on to the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices.

"The resignation of John Tanner is long overdue," writes one happy voting section staffer to The BRAD BLOG this morning, saying that he and his colleagues are "overjoyed at the news."

"Since becoming Section Chief in 2005 and even before, Tanner demonstrated that he cared only about serving his Republican overlords' desire to suppress minority voting to help the Republican Party win elections and not about the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. A great many long-time members of the Voting Section staff are overjoyed at the news of his departure," the staffer tells us, adding that a celebration is in the works.

"We are already planning a party for next week --- not a 'John Tanner goodbye party' but a 'goodbye John Tanner party.'"

At right is the most notable section of the now-infamous BRAD BLOG video, taped by our own Alan Breslauer at the National Latino Congreso in Los Angeles and which kicked off the most recent firestorm over Tanner's tenure. In it, as we reported exclusively at the time, Tanner explains his reasoning for over-ruling the majority opinion of career staffers in his own department in order to approve a controversial Photo ID polling place restriction in the state of Georgia. The measure was later found unconstitutional and declared to be a modern day Jim Crow-era poll tax by two federal courts.

Tanner says in the video, that though it's a "shame" that the elderly might be disenfranchised by such laws, "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do. They die first."

"Mr. Tanner had a clear record of undermining the core mission of the section – protecting the right to vote," Rep. Jerrod Nadler, chair of a House Judiciary subcommittee which oversees Tanner's department, said in a statement today in response to the resignation. "Tanner was actively seeking to curtail that cornerstone of American democracy. The right to vote is the foundation of all our liberties and it must be protected."

Tanner's current and former DoJ colleagues characterized his taped comments on the Georgia ID law as "ludicrous", "false" and "cherry-picked". The comments would lead to various calls for his firing from Barak Obama, Nadler, Ted Kennedy, the DNC and a number of civil rights organizations over the past two months.

The chair of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, was so incensed by Tanner's comments, as well as his previous efforts at white-washing a DoJ investigation of election fraud and voter suppression during the 2004 Presidential Election in Ohio, hearings were called in the House in late October, featuring an even more shameful performance by Tanner (video highlights/lowlights here), who would be described by the Washington Post afterwards as "one sorry man."

In response to Tanner's testimony at the hearings, The BRAD BLOG posted a letter from a voting section staffer, excoriating his sworn comments to the panel as "not credible", adding that Tanner had "lost no time in twisting the truth" in his testimony.

Tanner's long, often rambling resignation email sent out this morning (posted in full at the bottom of this article) skillfully attempts to re-write the history of his shameful tenure. In it, he conflates past performance of the department, beginning with his original arrival at DoJ 30 years ago, with the Civil Rights division's more recent and politicized history during which six years passed without a single lawsuit against African-American voter suppression have being filed.

Just one such case was filed under the DoJ's Voting Rights Act Section 5 oversight mandate, and it was a reverse-discrimination case in which white voters in Mississippi were said to have been discriminated against.

A special series on "Bush League Justice" by MSNBC's Dan Abrams premiered this week. In it's opening episode on Monday, Abrams focused on the DoJ's disastrous Civil Rights Division, and once again played a clip from Tanner's "minorities...die first" comments which we originally captured.

"Under Mr. Tanner's leadership, the Justice Department essentially took positions that disenfranchised minorities and the elderly," Nadler echoed once more in his comments today.

UPDATE: Barack Obama's office has sent us a statement decrying Tanner's move to a new department within the Civil Rights Division, calling the move little more than "simply shuffling deck chairs." Full statement now posted here...

Paul Kiel at TPM Muck, who has also been closely reporting this story, broke the news of the resignation this morning, and included the following in his wrap-up/obituary for Tanner...

Tanner's reign is notable for his collusion with the political appointees who oversaw the section, an ongoing effort to reverse the Civil Rights Division's traditional role in protecting minority voters, particularly African-Americans, into one of aiding thinly disguised vote suppression measures (most infamously Georgia's voter ID law). It was an effort that some career DoJ attorneys later described as "institutional sabotage."

Following Tanner's controversial comments in October, and what the DoJ staffer, who requested anonymity when writing to The BRAD BLOG, described as "other even more blatantly racist comments that have not yet been reported in the media," word of two investigations by the DoJ's Office of Professional Responsibility into questionable travel by Tanner and his deputy Susana Lorenzo-Giguere, made things still worse for the embattled voting chief.

The staffer, a long time trusted source for The BRAD BLOG, writes this morning to say that the "utterly incompetent management" of Lorenzo-Giguere, who remains in place for the moment, will continue to dog the department until both she and Acting Deputy Chief of the Section 5 unit, Yvette Rivera, who recently "gave performance awards to every single civil rights analyst in the Section except for the two who happen to be black," are replaced.

The management of the front office, the staffer reports, "led in the end to Tanner alienating not only long-time employees who have been enforcing the Voting Rights Act for years but also the majority of the new Republican hires Tanner and his front office colleagues brought in."

A meeting has been announced for section staffers next Tuesday at 10:30am, presumably to announce the new section chief. Though, for the moment, it's unclear who will replace Tanner, or what damage he'll be able to cause in his new position at the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, which is still a part of the DoJ's Civil Rights Division, and is not to be confused with the better known, U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which deals with government whistleblowing.

But the "incalculable damage" done to the Voting Section during Tanner's tenure, our DoJ source contends, will not be easily undone.

"Sadly, the harm Tanner did to the Voting Section will not be fully repaired by his departure. He has done incalculable damage to what was once one of the Justice Department's most respected units, one that, more than any other, is responsible for the demise of Jim Crow. The exodus of experienced voting rights attorneys and analysts has decimated the Section, and this damage will take a very long time to repair."

"Tanner's resignation is the first step in this direction," the source continued. "The next step is that the two acting deputy chiefs, Lorenzo-Giguere and Rivera, must be replaced by experienced, competent permanent deputy chiefs. These positions were advertised over a year ago, and the Division has applications from qualified individuals and has even interviewed several of them."

"The long process of rebuilding must begin, and the Section must return to its priority of protecting minority voters," the staffer concluded, mirroring comments from Nadler.

"The departure of Mr. Tanner presents an opportunity for a fresh start of the Voting Section," the congressman said today. "I urge the Bush Administration to take this opportunity to take politics out of voting rights enforcement by appointing a new chief with a commitment to the letter and the spirit of the Voting Rights Act."

John Tanner's email, sent to colleagues this morning, announcing his resignation, and attempting to rewrite history with extraordinarily skillful spin, follows in full below...

Nearly 32 years after I joined the Voting Section, I will be moving on to the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices. To better assist in a smooth transition, I am stepping down from my position as Section Chief immediately while I pack and sort through three decades of work.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the dedication and the accomplishments of all my colleagues in the Section. Their efforts in the two years I served as Chief has brought remarkable progress in securing and protecting voting rights for literally millions of people. They have made significant and tangible progress, and their achievements will be felt for generations to come.

They have tripled the number of new lawsuits compared to the immediately preceding period. In 2006, the Section filed the highest number of new lawsuits in its history. In just over two years the Section brought over 40 percent of all of the minority language cases in the history of the Act, and over 40 percent of all Section 208 cases in history to protect the right of voters who need assistance to receive it from a person of their own choice.

They have reinvigorated our Section 2 enforcement, more than doubling the number of cases over the immediately preceding period so that we are now approaching the Section’s historic average. And the Section now has solid new investigations and prospects for additional cases. More important, the reach of the Section 2 enforcement has been broadened to protect minority voters against discrimination at the polls that deters and suppresses their turnout.

Section 5 enforcement has advanced tremendously, not only technologically in the new on-line submission system, but much more importantly in our dramatically expanded contact with local minority community members. Contacts with minority citizens are now routine; they now include all affected minority communities, and they now include inquiry into compliance with all provisions of the Act, not just the very narrow Section 5 inquiry. Five new lawsuits generated by Section 5 inquiries this year alone attest to that improvement. And for the first time, traction has been gained in direct contact and understanding with the Alaska Native population.

These statistics are more than numbers. They are people. They are the African American voters of Euclid, Ohio, who had no opportunity to elect city council members of their choice. They are the Asian American voters in Boston whose ballots were taken from them and cast contrary to their wishes. They are the Latina voters in Pennsylvania who were ridiculed and humiliated by poll workers, and who left the polls in tears. They are the Laguna Pueblo voters whose registration applications were never processed, or who were removed from the rolls without notice, and who were denied their right to provisional ballots. They are the well over a million of our fellow citizens with limited English proficiency, too often beset by fear and hatred, who for the first time have full and equal access to the polls. All of this is thanks to our recent work.

The key to these improvements has been the development of systems to guide our enforcement. Our minority language and voter assistance enforcement systems have produced twice as many cases in five years as in the entire history of the Act, and we now have a template for extending those systems that have proved so successful in protecting language minority citizens to protect African American voters from suppression tactics under Section 2. There are now systems in place for voter registration enforcement under the NVRA, and to protect voters with disabilities under HAVA. The Section has expanded the language skills of Section staff beyond Spanish and Chinese to include Arabic, Gujarati, Hindi, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese, and improved training opportunities for all personnel. The Section now has a program to receive Fellows from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, as well as leading universities, that has broadened and enriched our office. These systems will continue and flourish.

The work of the Section matters. In the time I have been in Voting, my colleagues and I have worked on lawsuits and Section 5 enforcement that have increased the number of African American state legislators in Mississippi from only four in the late 1970s to 17 in 1982 to 46 today, and in Alabama from 16 African American legislators in 1982 to 32 today. There are now scores of African American elected officials across the Southeast who entered through doors I helped open. The more recent lawsuits are every bit as meaningful to the many voters who are now fully enfranchised.

I leave the Section with deep appreciation for the progress that has been made, but also with full awareness of the many challenges that remain and the work still to be done. That should be the focus. In leaving, I do so with confidence in the skill and passion with which the Section will meet and master those challenges, and with profound gratitude for the help, the support and the hard work of so many in the Section – past and present. The Voting Section is a group of talented men and women who are dedicated to this crucial mission. They have been real heroes in our struggle for the right to vote for all. I have been honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to work with them.

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