Justice Department Defies Civil Rights Commission

Doesn’t that sound like a headline from another era? Nixon and his Attorney-General John Mitchell, for example? Bush and Ashcroft?

But it’s President Barack Obama and his Attorney-General Eric Holder who have defied the United States Civil Rights Commission and dropped all charges against the defendants in an outstandingly blatant case of voter intimidation in Philadelphia in 2008.

This was Black Panthers in paramilitary regalia stationed in front of a polling place, one of them brandishing a night-stick and shouting "You are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker!" and sharing other similarly edifying information with potential voters. Witnesses included a civil-rights lawyer and publisher of the Village Voice, which isn’t exactly a right-wing rag, but you don’t have to take his word for it… check out the videos!

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, (Village Voice publisher, Bartle 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.

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.

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."

Comments are closed.