Sometime during Christmas week, Christopher Coates, the chief of the Voting Rights Section of the Justice Department, was quietly reassigned to an 18-month detail in the U.S. attorney's office in Charleston, South Carolina. Coates, a longtime career attorney in the Civil Rights Division, became head of the Voting Section in 2007. The previous head, John Tanner, left in 2007 in the midst of an uproar over racially inflammatory remarks.
Outraged conservatives quickly accused the Obama administration of reassigning Coates in order to cover up its dismissal of a voter-intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party that Coates supervised. Hans von Spakovsky, former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights under the Bush administration with a history of pushing for voting restrictions that disproportionately harm minority voters, said it was another sign of the Obama administration enforcing civil-rights laws on an "ideologically and politically biased basis." The conservative Washington Times headline blared "Justice Dept. Moves Panthers Pursuer to S.C."