Holder’s Black Panther Stonewall

John Fund, Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2009

President Obama’s Justice Department continues to stonewall inquiries about why it dropped a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party.

The episode–which Bartle Bull, a former civil rights lawyer and publisher of the left-wing Village Voice, calls “the most blatant form of voter intimidation I’ve ever seen”–began on Election Day 2008. Mr. Bull and others witnessed two Black Panthers in paramilitary garb at a polling place near downtown Philadelphia. {snip}

One of them, they say, brandished a nightstick at the entrance and pointed it at voters and both made racial threats. Mr. Bull says he heard one yell “You are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker!”

In the first week of January, the Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party and three of its members, saying they violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act by scaring voters with the weapon, uniforms and racial slurs. In March, Mr. Bull submitted an affidavit at Justice’s request to support its lawsuit.

When none of the defendants filed any response to the complaint or appeared in federal district court in Philadelphia to answer the suit, it appeared almost certain Justice would have prevailed by default. Instead, the department in May suddenly allowed the party and two of the three defendants to walk away. Against the third defendant, Minister King Samir Shabazz, it sought only an injunction barring him from displaying a weapon within 100 feet of a Philadelphia polling place for the next three years–action that’s already illegal under existing law.

There was outrage over the decision among Congressional Republicans, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division–especially after it was learned one of the defendants who walked was Jerry Jackson, a member of Philadelphia’s 14th Ward Democratic Committee and a credentialed poll watcher for the Democratic Party last Election Day.

Then the Washington Times reported on July 30 that six career lawyers at Justice who had recommended continuing to pursue the case were overruled by Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli–a top administration political appointee. One of the career attorneys, Appellate Chief Diana Flynn, had urged in an internal memo that a judgment be pressed against the defendants to “prevent the paramilitary style intimidation of voters” in the future.

{snip} Black Panther Party Chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz, said on Fox News just after the election that his activities at the polling station were part of a nationwide effort. Mr. Shabazz added that the Black Panther activities in Philadelphia were justified due to “an emergency situation.”

{snip}

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted on Aug. 7 to send a letter to Justice expanding its own investigation and demanding more complete answers. “We believe the Department’s defense of its actions thus far undermines respect for rule of law,” its letter stated. It noted “the peculiar logic” of one Justice argument, that defendants’ failure to show up in court was a reason for dismissing the case: “Such an argument sends a perverse message to wrongdoers–that attempts at voter suppression will be tolerated so long as the persons who engage in them are careful not to appear in court to answer the government’s complaint.”

{snip}

President Obama needs to clear the air. As a former law professor who specialized in voting rights, he is aware of how important even-handed application of the law is to election integrity. In 2007, then-Sen. Obama introduced a bill to protect Americans from tactics that intimidate voters. It also increased the criminal penalty for voter intimidation to five years in prison from one year.

{snip}

Topics: ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.

Comments are closed.