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Formal inquiry sought in polling case
Question of the Day
A senior House Republican plans Wednesday to introduce a “resolution of inquiry” calling on the House Judiciary Committee to formally ask Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to explain why the Justice Department dismissed a civil complaint against the New Black Panther Party after party members disrupted a Philadelphia polling place in last year’s elections.
The resolution is being sought by Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, after what he described as six failed attempts to get information from the Justice Department on why the complaint was dropped.
“This case was inexplicably dismissed earlier this year — over the ardent objections of the career attorneys overseeing the case as well as the department’s own appeal office,” he said. “I regret that Congress must resort to oversight resolutions as a means to receive information about the dismissal of this case, but the Congress and the American people have a right to know why this case was not prosecuted.”
Mr. Wolf, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, also inserted language into the Justice Department’s annual spending bill requiring that its Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) turn over to the committee the results of an investigation announced in August into the New Black Panther Party case.
His resolution directs Mr. Holder to provide Congress with “all information” relating to the decision to dismiss the case. The committee must hold a straight yes-or-no vote on the resolution.
“Time and again over the last year, the department has denied any effort to learn about the decision to dismiss this case,” Mr. Wolf said, adding that he first requested assistance in obtaining the information two months ago, but Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat and Judiciary chairman, has yet to act.
“This House must not turn a blind eye to the attorney general’s obstruction … It is imperative that we protect the right of all Americans to vote — the sacrosanct and inalienable right of any democracy,” he said.
Mr. Conyers’ office did not respond to a call for comment.
Mr. Wolf said he asked the Inspector General’s Office at the Justice Department to review the complaint’s dismissal but that the matter was referred to OPR, which reports directly to Mr. Holder.
“I have written the Office of Professional Responsibility seeking information on its investigation. The office has refused to share any information,” he said. “In fact, the only response I have received — from a legislative affairs staffer — was woefully incomplete and — in places — inaccurate.”
Career lawyers in the Justice Department’s Voting Section filed the civil complaint in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia in January, accusing the New Black Panther Party and two of its members, who were dressed in black berets, black combat boots, black shirts and black jackets with military insignias, of intimidating voters with racial insults, slurs and a nightstick.
A third party member was accused of directing and endorsing their behavior. The incident was captured on videotape and gained national attention after it was shown on YouTube.com.
Named in the complaint were party Chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz, a D.C. lawyer; Minister King Samir Shabazz, head of the Philadelphia chapter; and Jerry Jackson, a Philadelphia party member. Justice later sought an injunction against Mr. Samir Shabazz, who carried the nightstick, barring him from displaying weapons at polling places until 2012.
The New Black Panther Party has not returned e-mails or telephone messages seeking comment.
The complaint said the party members “engaged in coercion, threats and intimidation” of voters and those assisting them in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. It said Mr. Samir Shabazz and Mr. Jackson made statements containing racial threats and insults at both black and white voters and made “menacing and intimidating gestures, statements and movements” directed at those present to aid the voters.
Before the charges were ordered dropped by Obama political appointees at the Justice Department, a federal judge had ordered default judgments against the party and its members after they had refused to respond to the charges or appear in court.
The Justice Department was in the final stages of seeking those sanctions when a delay in the proceedings was ordered, and the complaint was later dismissed.
About the Author
Jerry Seper is the investigative editor for The Washington Times.
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