You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

EDITORIAL: Congress is derelict on Black Panther case

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

In the matter of a voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party, it's long past time for Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary committees to start protecting the institutional powers of Congress and of independent agencies.

Eleven months ago, the Justice Department suddenly and surprisingly dropped its case against three defendants and accepted a weak injunction against a fourth, stemming from the incident in Philadelphia on Election Day 2008 in which Black Panthers disrupted a neighborhood polling place. Since then, the Justice Department has stonewalled multiple requests for information from news organizations, a number of congressmen and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Despite a legal requirement that all federal agencies must comply with subpoenas issued by the Civil Rights Commission, the Justice Department has objected to "each and every" question and document request submitted via subpoena. The department also refused to let its line attorneys be interviewed by the commission and even transferred one of the key attorneys to South Carolina to put him out of the commission's subpoena jurisdiction.

The Civil Rights Commission is "an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding agency" with the duty to investigate and report on instances in which it appears that citizens' voting rights have been abridged because of race, sex, ethnicity or disability. Technically an executive-branch agency, the commission features four of eight commissioners who are appointed directly by leaders of Congress. Congress long has recognized that the commission's independence and ability to issue reports to Congress makes the commission an invaluable safeguard for Congress against executive malfeasance.

Congress therefore should take heed of an April 1 letter that commission Chairman Gerald A. Reynolds wrote to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. demanding his "direct response" to the commission's repeated requests for more information. Calling the department's lack of cooperation a "dangerous precedent," Mr. Reynolds blasted the department's original decision to dismiss the case. The Justice Department "appears to have provided hate groups of every ilk a precedent that will assist them in avoiding liability for voter intimidation," he said.

An even lengthier letter two days earlier, this one from commission General Counsel David P. Blackwood to Joseph H. Hunt of the Justice Department's Civil Division, requested that the department appoint a special counsel on the matter because the department had demonstrated "an inherent conflict of interest." So far, Mr. Blackwood wrote, "the department's existing discovery responses fall short of an even minimum level of cooperation."

Congress needn't look far to understand that the department's unseemly obstruction of the commission's work is an indicator of a more generalized secrecy that will hamstring Congress' own, justifiable oversight efforts. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, and Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, have been similarly rebuffed on the same Black Panther issue on multiple occasions. If Congress lets the Justice Department get away with such obstinacy, it will be setting a worrisome precedent.

A Congress that won't keep the Justice Department honest is a Congress that has been emasculated. And a Justice Department accountable to no outside agency or branch of government is a department whose powers could easily become sinister.

blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts