Lawyers everywhere are scratching their heads. Who among us has ever heard of a prosecutor dismissing a successful case?
Well, it’s happened in Philadelphia, where the Department of Justice dismissed a civil lawsuit it had already won against the New Black Panther Party (NBPP). This represents the worst form of political tampering with the administration of justice — actions that are far more serious (and inexcusable) than the often alleged but always disproved claims of so-called “politicization” during the Bush administration.
Back then, the Voting Rights section of the Bush DOJ was frequently pilloried for being “politicized.” Exhibit A was its approval of Georgia’s voter identification law. But this accusation was shown to be thin gruel when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of photo ID laws.
The recent action — or inaction — by the Voting Rights section is a different situation entirely.
On Election Day last year, FOX News and other witnesses saw members of the New Black Panther Party in military-style uniforms and jack boots (one carrying a billy club) threatening, intimidating, hurling racial slurs, and taunting voters — white and black alike. One of the Black Panthers was a member of the Democratic Committee of the 14th Ward and a credentialed poll watcher for the Democratic Party.
Bartle Bull, a distinguished New York lawyer who worked in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, saw the event and said it was “the most blatant form of voter intimidation I have encountered in my life.”
The Chairman of the NBPP, Malik Zulu Shabazz, explained he’d organized a program to “patrol election sites nationwide to counter voter intimidation and other threats of violence against blacks.” He appeared on FOX News three days after the election and endorsed the behavior of his members in the Philadelphia precinct. They were responding to an “emergency” situation, he explained, because there were Nazis and skinheads at the precinct. The FOX News reporter on the scene literally laughed at that false claim.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in January against the NBPP, Shabazz, and two individual members who were intimidating voters at the precinct. It was filed under Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits the intimidation and coercion of voters. Only after the Justice Department got involved did a statement suddenly appear on the party’s website disavowing the actions of their members in Philadelphia and suspending the Philadelphia chapter.
None of the defendants answered the lawsuit, which is the legal equivalent of admitting that the allegations made in the complaint are true. But rather than take that default judgment, Justice dismissed charges against the NBPP, its chairman, and the Democratic poll watcher. The Department only asked for a default judgment against the Black Panther who was carrying a billy club, and obtained an injunction against his carrying a weapon within 100 feet of any polling place in Philadelphia. Presumably it’s okay if he does that anywhere else in the country.
There are so many things wrong with what happened in this case, there isn’t space on the page to list them all.
I worked as a voting counsel during the Bush administration and never saw a case where the Justice Department refused to take a judgment against defendants who hadn’t answered the lawsuit. It’s unprecedented, and the Department hasn’t yet explained its actions. The defendants showed little remorse here. The Chairman of the NBPP organized the poll-watching plan and spoke approvingly of the behavior of his members in Philadelphia even after it had occurred.
It was only after the NBPP — a hate group whose violent, racist views and rhetoric against Jews and whites are well documented by organizations including the Southern Poverty Law Center — realized the Justice Department was investigating its behavior that it renounced its Election Day tactics.
Meanwhile on May 4, 2009 — at almost the same time as the decision was being made to dismiss the NBPP case — the Division filed a brief in Kansas against a company that owns and manages apartments. One of the company’s employees was fired after displaying a noose, and the company asked the court to dismiss it from the case since not only had it fired the employee, it no longer managed the apartment complex in question.
Justice opposed the dismissal, arguing that the company should have known about the employee’s behavior, that it failed to train and monitor its employees, and that there was no evidence the company wouldn’t repeat its behavior at any of the other properties its owns or manages. To review: In the Black Panther case, the Division had proof the NBPP encouraged violent, hateful conduct in its members and that it failed to train and monitor their behavior to prevent such actions when they were at the polls. There’s no evidence that the NBPP won’t repeat this behavior in future elections.
The credentialed Democratic poll watcher who was at the polling place intimidating voters and hurling racial epithets was also dismissed from the case. Does this mean that the Justice Department intends to allow such behavior in the future? And from Republican “poll watchers” as well as Democrats? And there’s no explanation of why the Department has not criminally prosecuted the one remaining defendant — the Black Panther carrying a weapon in a polling place — against whom they obtained a civil injunction.
The DOJ’s decision to drop this clear, unambiguous case raises serious questions about whether the Obama administration intends to enforce voting rights laws in an objective, non-political manner that protects all voters, regardless of race or ethnic background. It is — or deserves to be — a real scandal, unlike the pseudo scandals manufactured over the past few years by the political Left to harass the prior administration.