Update to Black Panther Case: Inspector General Asked To Investigate

The Department of Justice has reportedly gone AWOL on a case of voter intimidation it won and then dismissed earlier this year. Now Republicans are asking for help from the Department’s Inspector General.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) sent a letter in June to Attorney General Eric Holder asking why the Justice Department dropped a case against the New Black Panther Party which accused three party members of voter intimidation in Philadelphia last November. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), ranking member on the House Judiciary committee, sent a letter to the DOJ in May.

DOJ never responded.

A Republican staffer on the House Judiciary Committee said while the DOJ’s silence could initially be excused as an oversight by an understaffed department, the time has run out on that explanation. The staffer said Smith in good faith gave the department an opportunity to respond, yet nothing has been heard.

This case is primary evidence of the politicization of the Justice Department (dismissing a case the department has already won is, after all, uncommon). Now a group of Republicans under the direction of Smith and Wolf are sending a letter to the Inspector General asking that he investigate the DOJ’s dismissal of the case.

“IG spent all that time on the U.S. attorney issue,” Wolf said, referring to the IG’s one and a half year investigation of the controversial dismissal in 2006 of nine U.S. attorneys. “We point out that voter intimidation threatens the very core [of] democracy.”

And what if the IG pulls an Eric Holder and doesn’t respond?

“We’re going to stay with it the same way we have on the Guantanamo Bay issue,” Wolf told HUMAN EVENTS yesterday. “Ultimately, we’ll resolve the issue.”

Wolf has also sent a letter Wednesday to Smith and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, asking for a hearing on why the Justice Department dismissed the case.

Smith issued a response in support of Wolf’s letter.

“The sudden dismissal of the New Black Panther Case — a case that the Justice Department had effectively won — raises serious concerns about politicization of the Justice Department,” Smith said in his response. “I know this is an issue of great concern to the Chairman since he held several hearings on the matter in the 110th Congress, and I hope that he will take seriously this request for a hearing."

A spokesperson from Conyers’ office had not yet seen the letter as of Thursday afternoon.

Below is the text of the letter several Republicans are sending to the Inspector General:

July 9, 2009

The Honorable Glenn A. Fine
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Mr. Inspector General,

We write today to request that you investigate whether improper political considerations led the Justice Department to dismiss a voter intimidation case it previously brought against the New Black Panther Party and two individuals affiliated with it. Following the dismissal, Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith and Ranking Member Frank Wolf each submitted letters to the Justice Department requesting information regarding the decision to drop the voter intimidation charges. To date, the Department has not responded to either request. Copies of the letters are attached.

The dismissal of the Department’s case against the New Black Panther Party raises significant concerns about possible politicization of the Justice Department. The case in question was filed by the Department against members of the New Black Panther Party and two individuals affiliated with it. Significantly, one of those individuals carried credentials indicating he was a member of the local Democratic Committee. As both of our letters recount, the individuals are alleged to have engaged in brazen acts of voter intimidation outside of polling locations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Election Day 2008. After reviewing the facts the Justice Department brought charges against the two individuals and the Party under the Voting Rights Act.

Despite the fact that a judge essentially ruled in favor of the Justice Department’s complaint when the defendants failed to respond to the allegations, the Civil Rights Division under the Obama Administration decided to dismiss the case instead of obtaining a default judgment. We are unaware of any changes in the facts underlying this case between the Department’s filing of its initial complaint and the subsequent filing of its motion to dismiss. Nor are we aware of any allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the bringing of the initial complaint.

As Inspector General of the Justice Department, you spent more than a year investigating allegations of wrongful political influence in the removal of several U.S. Attorneys. Allegations of wrongful political influence by Obama Administration officials in the dismissal of a voting rights case are equally important and should be subject to an equally thorough investigation.

Voter intimidation threatens the very core of democracy. The American people need to know that the Justice Department takes seriously cases of voter intimidation, regardless of the political party of the defendants. We respectfully request that you open an investigation into the dismissal of the Black Panther Case and report to Congress.

We appreciate your timely consideration of our request.


Rep. Lamar Smith (Ranking Member of Judiciary Committee)
Rep. Frank Wolf (Ranking Member of Approps Subcommittee on Justice)
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (Ranking Member of Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights)
Rep. Trent Franks (Member of Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights)
Rep. Louie Gohmert (Member of Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights)
Rep. Steve King (Member of Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights)
Rep. Jim Jordan (Member of Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights)
Rep. Robert Aderholt (Member of Approps Subcommittee on Justice)
Rep. Jo Bonner (Member of Approps Subcommittee on Justice)
Rep. John Culberson (Member of Approps Subcommittee on Justice)