The New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case dating back to 2008 was back in the news this week with the finding by federal government lawyers that politics played no role in the Justice Department's earlier decision to dismiss most of the charges in the case.
The opinion came in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) who had requested the investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility.
The case was initially filed in the last days of the Bush Administration against several members of the NBPP which can most charitably be described as a fringe black nationalist group with a soft spot for the 1960s Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam.
Fox News Channel put into heavy rotation video of a couple of black men dressed in black berets and military boots, one with what looked like a policeman's riot baton, outside a Philadelphia polling place in 2008. One of the men in black got into a bit of a mildly tense conversation with someone videotaping him.
For all the mileage the NBPP has gotten out of that video, they should be paying the guy who took it.
As NPR's Carrie Johnson reported:
The letter by counsel Robin C. Ashton to members of the House Judiciary Committee reports that "department attorneys did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment, but rather acted appropriately."
Smith's response to the letter is interesting. Here it is:
Chairman Smith: "I appreciate OPR's response and its finding that the Bush Administration's suit against the New Black Panther Party was justified. However, its review did not address the Civil Rights Division's misguided policy of using racial considerations when determining whether to enforce voting rights laws. The Division should protect the voting rights of all Americans, regardless of race, gender, religion or political affiliation. The Inspector General is investigating whether the Civil Rights Division has used race as a litmus test for the enforcement of voting rights laws. The Committee will conduct a thorough review of the Civil Rights Division and the IG's findings when they are released."
That response is noteworthy in part because Smith clearly has already determined that the civil rights division's actions are "misguided."
So one might ask, why is Smith waiting for the inspector general's investigation and report to be completed if he has already concluded that the civil rights division is wrongheaded in how it chooses which voting-rights complaints to investigate? Seems like a case of verdict first, trial later.
In any event, Smith also seemed to indicate in his statement that the NBPP case won't be going away if he has any say in it. And he does. You can draw that from the first sentence of his statement:
"I appreciate OPR's response and its finding that the Bush Administration's suit against the New Black Panther Party was justified."
Many folks wish it would go away, however.