Probe in New Black Panther Case

Jerry Markon, Washington Post, September 14, 2010

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog is investigating allegations that its civil rights division enforced voting laws in a racially discriminatory manner, officials said Monday.

The review by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine is an outgrowth of the political controversy over a 2008 voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party. Some conservative lawyers, politicians and commentators have said that the civil rights division improperly narrowed that case, part of their broader allegations that the Obama Justice Department has failed to protect the civil rights of white voters.

The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is looking into the matter, and two Republican congressmen, Frank R. Wolf (Va.) and Lamar Smith (Tex.) asked Fine to also investigate the department’s handling of the case, according to letters the congressmen sent Fine over the summer.

Fine, in a letter Monday to the congressmen, wrote that his office will not investigate the New Black Panther case specifically but is initiating a broader review of how the Justice Department enforces voting rights laws.

The letter, released by both congressional offices, said the review will focus on what types of cases the civil rights division’s voting section brings and whether it enforces the law “in a non-discriminatory manner.”

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But conservatives contend that the Obama administration has itself become politicized, and they have focused their ire on the New Black Panther case. Filed weeks before the Obama administration took office, it focused on two of the party’s members who stood in front of a polling place in Philadelphia on Election Day 2008, one carrying a nightstick and identifying himself as “security.” The men were captured on video and accused of trying to discourage some people from voting.

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Former Justice Department lawyer J. Christian Adams recently told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which held a series of hearings on the matter, that he believed the case had been narrowed because some in the civil rights division were interested in protecting only minorities.

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