By Justin Sink - 07/15/13 04:54 PM EDT
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that President Obama would not be involved in the Justice Department's review of possible civil rights charges against George Zimmerman after his acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
"Cases are brought on the merits," Carney said. "The merits are evaluated by the professionals at the Department of Justice."
Carney said he did not believe Obama would discuss the "merits" of the case directly with Attorney General Eric Holder, nor would he offer public comments on whether the DOJ should pursue Zimmerman.
"The process will be handled in the way it should be at the Department of Justice," he stressed.
Carney’s comments come amid intense pressure from many Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups to bring federal charges against Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Martin, an unarmed black teenager in February 2012. A jury on Saturday found Zimmerman not guilty of manslaughter and second-degree murder charges.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), however, said the case “isn’t over with” and expressed support for a DOJ review.
The nation’s most prominent civil rights group, the NAACP, began a petition on Sunday to press Holder to act and said that it had spoken with top officials at the DOJ about their review.
But others said that the case should be closed, with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on Sunday accusing Obama of politicizing the death of Martin.
The Justice Department said Sunday it was evaluating the evidence against Zimmerman and the state trial record in concert with the FBI and U.S. attorneys in Florida to determine if Martin’s civil rights were violated.
"Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department's policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial,” said Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman.
President Obama had previously spoken about the Martin shooting personally, saying that if he had a son, he would look “like Trayvon.”
Following the verdict, Obama called the teenager’s death a “tragedy” and urged the nation to remain “calm.”
Carney said Obama decided to issue the statement on Sunday because he felt Martin's death was a loss not only for his parents and community, but also the nation. He added that Obama wanted to echo the Martin family's "remarkable request" for peace in the aftermath of the verdict.
Carney said he did not believe that Obama had spoken directly to the Martin family since the verdict but could not be certain.
Carney also suggested that Holder could use the verdict to pivot into a discussion of gun violence at his speech Tuesday in Florida before the NAACP.
"I'm sure the attorney general looks forward to having that conversation," Carney said. "The issues surrounding gun violence remain, and it remains a priority for this administration."
Lawyers for the Martin family said over the weekend that they would consider their options, including a possible civil trial in Florida.
Carney said that the White House would not comment on whether they believed the Martin family should pursue a wrongful death civil suit against Zimmerman.