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Commission Chairman Gerald A. Reynolds said the department has offered only “weak justifications” for the dismissal, adding that he feared the legal precedent set by the case might encourage “other hate groups” to act similarly. He was given the authority in October to issue subpoenas to a broad range of witnesses, including those at Justice.

“If you swap out the New Black Panther Party in this case for neo-Nazi groups or the Ku Klux Klan, you likely would have had a different outcome,” said Mr. Reynolds. “A single law, a single rule should be applied across the board.”

Commissioner Todd Gaziano has outlined a witness list in a request for a “major study project” by the commission that would include an extensive investigation by its staff — with subpoenas and public hearings in both Washington and Philadelphia.

Mr. Gaziano said the commission wants to know whether the decision to drop the complaint constituted a departure from prior enforcement policy and whether it ultimately would lead to more voter intimidation.

“The dismissal of the lawsuit has the potential to significantly change the understanding some officials have regarding the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, for good or for bad,” he said.

The NBPP did not return numerous e-mails from The Washington Times seeking answers to questions concerning the case. The voice message machine at its group’s D.C. headquarters has been full for several weeks.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said that “as a general policy” the department does not comment on ongoing OPR matters. But she has steadfastly maintained that the department has an “ongoing obligation” to be sure the claims it makes are supported by the facts and the law.

Ms. Schmaler noted that after a “thorough review” of the civil complaint, top career lawyers in the Civil Rights Division determined that the “facts and the law did not support pursuing the claims against three of the defendants” in the NBPP case.

She also said the department is “committed to vigorous enforcement of the laws protecting anyone exercising his or her right to vote.”

With 35 chapters in 15 states and the District of Columbia, the NBPP has been described by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as radical black nationalists and the largest organized anti-Semitic black militant group in America, and by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks racist, neo-Nazi and anti-government organizations, as a “black racist” hate group.

A civil complaint brought Jan. 7 against the party and three of its members accused the NBPP and its members of violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act by scaring would-be voters with a nightstick, racial taunts, insults and military-style uniforms.

Four months later, the career prosecutors who had pursued the case for months beginning during the Bush administration were told by Justice Department political appointees named by President Obama to drop the complaint against the party and two of its members.

The original complaint, signed by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, said the NBPP endorsed and supported racially motived violence and described the party as “a black-supremacist organization … explicitly hostile toward non-black and Jewish individuals in both rhetoric and practice.”

Grace Chung Becker, a Bush administration political appointee who was the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights when the complaint was filed, said at the time that intimidation outside a polling place was “contrary to the democratic process.”

Mr. Mukasey, now in private law practice in New York, declined to comment.

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