The Justice Department stonewalled efforts by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to investigate the dismissal of a civil complaint against the New Black Panther Party, leaving open the question of whether the department is willing to pursue civil rights cases “in which whites were the perceived victims and minorities the alleged wrongdoers.”
In a 144-page report completed in November and released over the weekend, the commission said its lengthy investigation had uncovered “numerous specific examples of open hostility and opposition” within the department’s Civil Rights Division to pursuing cases in which whites were the victims.
The report, posted on the commission’s web site, said testimony obtained by the panel during its investigation included allegations that some Justice Department lawyers refused to work on cases involving white victims; that lawyers who worked on such cases were harassed and ostracized; and that some employees, including supervisory attorneys and political appointees, openly opposed race-neutral enforcement of voting rights laws.
In its report, adopted in a 5-2 vote during a meeting in November but not make it public, the commission said it became interested in the New Black Panther case because of the “notoriety of the incident and the unusual dismissal of uncontested claims.” It said the commission then sent letters to Justice asking it to explain the basis for its actions, but the department was “largely unresponsive.”
“What was not anticipated was the extent of the department’s lack of cooperation,” the report said. “At various times the department alleged it would provide no information because the matter was being reviewed by its Office of Professional Responsibility. At other times, the Department raised a wide variety of legal privileges, many of which seemed to have no relevance to the current investigation.”
Although the department eventually began to provide some information, including 4,000 pages of documents, the report said much of the information provided either did not relate to the New Black Panther Party litigation, involved matters that were already public, or involved prior voter intimidation lawsuits. The report said the information did not address the core of the commission’s inquiry as to why the NBPP lawsuit had been challenged internally.
[The Civil Rights Commission’s interim report “DOJ and the New Black Panther Party Litigation” can be downloaded as a PDF file here. Supporting depositions, statement, and other documents can be accessed here.]