Monday, August 3, 2009

The Justice Department’s claims about why it dropped a voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party and two of its members are offensively hollow. The bad decision clearly was the result of purely political considerations overriding the unambiguous facts of the case, the law and the judgment of career Justice Department lawyers.

In a July 13 letter to Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch wrote that the department dropped the charges “because the facts and the law did not support pursuing those claims. That decision was made after a careful and thorough review of the matter by the Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, a career employee with nearly 30 years experience in the Department.”

What Mr. Welch didn’t mention was that the official, Loretta King, had made the decision only after consulting with her boss, Thomas J. Perrelli, a political appointee who raised more than half a million dollars for then-candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 elections. He didn’t mention that Ms. King herself is hardly a nonpartisan figure, but somebody well-known for her Democratic leanings.

On Friday, Hans A. von Spakovsky wrote on the Heritage Foundation’s Foundry blog that Ms. King “is in a political position under the Vacancy Reform Act and was appointed by President Obama. I worked with her for four years when I was in the Civil Rights Division. She talked about resigning when I was there to run as a Democratic candidate in Maryland and is as political as any political appointee at Justice.”

Ms. King’s primary colleague in overseeing the case was Steven H. Rosenbaum, chief of the department’s special litigation section. He donated $500 to Mr. Obama’s campaign last year.

Those three officials first overruled the considered judgment of Justice Department career lawyers Christopher Coates, Robert D. Popper and J. Christian Adams, along with former Acting Assistant Attorney General Grace Chung Becker. Then they overruled two top attorneys at the department’s Appellate Division. Appellate Chief Diana K. Flynn wrote on May 13 that the case was so strong that it should be pursued “unless the department had evidence the court ruling was based on unethical conduct by the government.” No such evidence existed, and Ms. Flynn noted that a judgment against the defendants would be important in order to “prevent the paramilitary style intimidation of voters.”

So we have three heavily politicized, Democratic-leaning senior officials overruling, without substantive explanation, the six lawyers who had studied the case most closely. They did so on behalf of a defendant, Jerry Jackson, who was an elected Democratic official in Philadelphia and an official Democratic Party poll watcher even though he was an active member of a group, the New Black Panthers, that has been identified as a racist hate group. And they did it four days before municipal primary elections in Philadelphia, in time for Mr. Jackson to serve again as an official poll watcher despite having had a judge issue a valid default judgment against him for a civil rights violation.

“When you politicize the Justice Department, it’s really scary,” Mr. Wolf told us last week. He’s right.

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