House Judiciary Committee Rejects Voter Intimidation Inquiry

The House Judiciary Committee this week voted down a resolution of inquiry that would have required the Department of Justice (DOJ) to explain to Congress why it dismissed a voter intimidation case involving members of the New Black Panther Party at a polling place in Philadelphia in November 2008.  

The measure, H. Res. 994, was defeated 15-14 on a straight party-line vote.  Rep. Daniel Maffei (D-N.Y.) originally “passed” on his vote, but then changed to “no” to bring about the resolution’s defeat.   Had the resolution gone through, it would have moved to the full House for a vote.

Not all committee members were in Washington for the vote due to the truncated work week — less than 24 hours — to facilitate the Democratic Caucus retreat on Thursday and Friday.  (The Republican Caucus has their two-day retreat in the last week of January.)

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee summed up the issues at hand in his opening remarks.

“Outside of a polling location in Philadelphia [November 2008], two men were dressed in paramilitary uniforms, one brandishing a baton in front of voters,” Smith said.  “They cursed voters, shouted racial obscenities at them, and tried to block voters’ entry into the polling location.”   

“These men were members of The New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, an organization so radical that the original Black Panther Party has found it necessary to denounce it,” Smith continued.  “A year ago, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department filed a complaint against the New Black Panther Party and three of its members for violating the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits any ‘attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce’ any voter and those aiding voters.”

“Neither the New Black Panther Party nor its members responded to the lawsuit,” Smith stated.  “The Justice Department effectively won the case when the judge directed the Civil Rights Division to file a final motion.  But rather than seek a default judgment to ensure that defendants could not participate in future voter intimidation tactics, the Obama Administration abruptly dropped charges against all but one of the defendants.”

“No facts had changed,” Smith said.  “No new evidence was uncovered.  The only thing that did change is the political party in charge of the Justice Department.”  

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), member of the House Judiciary Committee and former appellate court judge, spoke with HUMAN EVENTS about the vote.

“The evidence was very clear,” Gohmert said.  “There was a video that spoke for itself of the uniformed, billy-clubbed intimidation occurring in Philadelphia from a group that identifies itself as the New Black Panther Party and associates itself with the Nation of Islam.”

Bartle Bull submitted an affidavit in U.S. v. New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, et al submitted into the record at the Judiciary Committee markup.  Bull was an attorney poll observer in Philadelphia on November 4, 2008.  In the mid-1960s, Bull participated in civil rights lawsuits against municipalities in Mississippi and worked closely with Charles Evers to help defend the voting rights of African-Americans in Mississippi.  He served as campaign manager in New York for both the Robert F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter presidential campaigns.  He is man well versed in proper voting procedures and hardly a right-wing partisan.

In the affidavit, Bull stated, “Their clear purpose and intent was to intimidate voters with whom they did not agree.  Their views were, in part, made apparent by the uniform of the organization the two men wore and the racially-charged statements they made.  For example, I heard the shorter man make a statement directed toward white poll observers that, ‘you are about to be ruled by a black man, cracker.’ To me, the presence and behavior of the two uniformed men was an outrageous affront to American democracy and the rights of voters to participate in elections without fear.  It would qualify as the most blatant form of voter intimidation I have encountered in my life in political campaigns in many states, even going back to the work I did in Mississippi in the 1960s.”

The short man Bull observed was later identified as King Samir Shabazz and the taller one Jerry Jackson, both leaders of the Philadelphia chapter of the New Black Panther Party.

“I felt that surely there would be broad bipartisan support for demanding documentation as to why the case was dropped the way it was,” Gohmert told HUMAN EVENTS.  “It is beyond unbelievable that almost all of the Democrats who have talked so much about protecting civil rights would turn blind eyes to this outlandish abuse by the self-proclaimed anti-Semitic, racially bigoted group.”

“It should not matter if the abusers were white, black, green, or skin-heads; they should have been pursued to the full extent of the law and dealt with harshly,” Gohmert said.  “They were not. It is truly a sad day for justice and Congressional oversight.  I am just taken aback that people on our committee who have spent so much time fighting perceived injustice could stand so mute in the face of such clear abuse and failure of justice.”

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee and senior member on Judiciary, is the author of the resolution.

“I am deeply disappointed that Judiciary Committee defeated my resolution of inquiry on a party-line vote,” Wolf remarked after the vote.  “There has been no oversight, no accountability and certainly no transparency with regard to this attorney general and this Department of Justice.”

“After ignoring my seven letters over seven months and failing to comply with subpoenas issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the attorney general continues to thwart all efforts to compel an explanation for the dismissal of U.S. v. New Black Panther Party,” Wolf added.  “The committee’s failure to approve my resolution has set a troubling precedent.”