A senior House Republican on Thursday introduced a “resolution of inquiry” that would require the House Judiciary Committee to seek answers on why the Justice Department dismissed a civil complaint against members of the New Black Panther Party who disrupted a Philadelphia polling place in last year’s elections.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia also said he had language inserted in the Justice Department’s annual spending bill requiring that its Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) provide to the House Appropriations Committee the results of OPR’s investigation surrounding the dismissal of the case.
Mr. Wolf, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee’s commerce, justice and science subcommittee, and Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, requested an investigation into the case earlier this year.
Under House rules, committees must take action on resolutions of inquiry within 14 legislative days. Mr. Wolfs resolution directs Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to provide Congress with “all information” relating to the decision to dismiss the case. The committee must hold a straight yea-or-nay vote on the resolution.
Mr. Wolf said he has written the attorney general six times seeking answers concerning the handling of the New Black Panther case and has yet to receive an answer.
“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,” he said.
In August, Mary Patrice Brown, acting OPR counsel, said she had “initiated an inquiry into the matter.”
The office, which investigates accusations of wrongdoing involving Justice Department attorneys, has said it would share the results of its inquiry with the lawmakers when it is completed.
Career lawyers in the Justice Department’s Voting Section filed the civil complaint in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia in January, accusing two New Black Panther 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
Along with the party, also named were Chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz, a D.C. lawyer; Minister King Samir Shabazz, head of the Philadelphia chapter who was accused of wielding the nightstick; 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.
In a statement introducing the resolution of inquiry, Mr. Wolf said the case had been “inexplicably dismissed” over the ardent objections of the career attorneys who oversaw it as well as the Justice Departments own appeals office.
“Time and again over the last year, the department has stonewalled any effort to learn about the decision to dismiss this case,” he said, noting that not only had Congress been unsuccessful in getting any information but the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights had repeatedly failed in its attempt to seek testimony and documents.
“I urge the House Judiciary Committee to report this resolution out favorably and to demand that the attorney general answer the questions surrounding this case,” he said. “It is imperative that we protect the right of all Americans to vote - the sacrosanct and inalienable right of any democracy.”