Panel Blasts Panther Case Dismissal

Jerry Seper, Washington Times, August 4, 2009

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is demanding that the Justice Department explain why it recently dismissed a civil complaint against members of the New Black Panther Party who disrupted a Philadelphia polling place during last year’s election, saying the department has offered only “weak justifications.”

Commission Chairman Gerald A. Reynolds, a former deputy associate attorney general under President George W. Bush, said he fears the legal precedent set by the department in its May decision to drop the case might encourage “other hate groups” to act similarly at polling locations in the future.

Mr. Reynolds also charged that other groups might not have been treated so leniently.

“If you swap out the New Black Panther Party in this case for neo-Nazi groups or the Ku Klux Klan, you likely would have had a different outcome,” he told The Washington Times in a telephone interview Monday.

“A single law, a single rule should be applied across the board. We are communicating with the department in hopes of gaining a better understanding of just what happened.”

{snip}

In January, the Justice Department filed a civil complaint in Philadelphia against the New Black Panther Party after two of its members in black berets, black combat boots, black shirts and black jackets purportedly intimidated voters with racial insults, slurs and a nightstick. A third party member was accused of managing, directing and endorsing their behavior. The incident was captured on videotape.

Four months later, Justice officials dropped the charges because, they said, “the facts and the law did not support pursuing” them. {snip}

But before the charges were dropped, a federal judge in April ordered default judgments against the Panthers after the party members refused to respond to the charges or appear in court. The Justice Department was also in the final stages of seeking sanctions when a delay in the proceedings was ordered by Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general.

The ruling was issued after she met with Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli, the department’s No. 3 political appointee, who approved the decision, according to interviews with department officials who sought anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

{snip}

In a June 16 letter, the commission told the Justice Department that {snip} even after the case had been won, the department “took the unusual move of voluntarily dismissing the charges,” which, it wrote, sent “the wrong message entirely–that attempts at voter suppression will be tolerated and will not be vigorously prosecuted so long as the groups or individuals who engage in them fail to respond to the charges leveled against them.”

{snip}

[Editor’s Note: Earlier stories on this case are listed here.]

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