EDITORIAL: Black Panther case roars back

Inspector general opens inquiry into impropriety at Justice

The other shoe is dropping on the stonewallers at the Obama Justice Department. Yesterday, the department’s inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, informed Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, and Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, that he will open “a review of the enforcement of civil rights laws by the Voting Rights Section of the Department’s Civil Rights Division.” Such an investigation is bound to kick up a lot of dirt.

Although the review won’t directly or solely analyze the now-infamous decision to deep-six a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party, it could include that case within its broader analysis of “whether the Voting Section has enforced the civil rights laws in a non-discriminatory manner; and whether any Voting Section employees have been harassed for participating in the investigation or prosecution of particular matters.” This is big stuff. It would be difficult not to find something shady in Justice’s decision not to pursue a case in which a Black Panther wielded a nightstick at a voting place while he and another spit violently racist epithets at voters.

For months, Mr. Wolf implored Mr. Fine to investigate the Black Panther scandal. For months, Mr. Fine said it was out of his jurisdiction. Yet it turns out that while he claims no legal authority to review a specific prosecutorial decision, the inspector general asserts he may by law “conduct the broader program review.”

This is the same sort of review, from outside the department, that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been attempting, despite an utter and lawless lack of cooperation from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. The poignant point about Mr. Fine’s change of heart is that the New Black Panther case was never merely about two menacing thugs standing outside a single polling place. The overdue need for an investigation centers on the broader question of whether the Obama-Holder Justice Department enforces civil rights laws equally in defense of whites and Asians as it does on behalf of blacks or Hispanics. Ample anecdotal and strong circumstantial evidence indicates it doesn’t.

Mr. Fine’s investigation and an upcoming report from the Civil Rights Commission amount to a one-two punch against racial preferences at Justice. Between the two efforts, the American public can muster hope for a forced return to equal justice under the law.

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