By Michael P. Tremoglie
Tea Time Blog
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.), a Philadelphia native, and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member, Lamar Smith (R-Texas) sent a letter, on November 10, to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting information about the Justice Department’s inquiry into the sudden and unusual dismissal of voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party.
The congressmen are concerned that the Justice Department (DOJ) is using the investigation as a means to continue stonewalling Congress in this matter. It has been three months since DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility initiated an investigation at the request of Smith and Wolf.
Yet, despite repeated requests made during the past three months DOJ has not provided Congress with a clear explanation for why the Civil Rights Division dismissed the complaint.
According to Messrs. Smith and Wolf, “Congress and the American people must have confidence that the Department’s Voting Rights Act enforcement is free of improper political motives … it is important for Congress, in furtherance of its oversight obligations, to receive answers before the end of this year—before we enter a political season” so that voters can be assured that voter intimidation will not be tolerated.
Justice Department attorneys filed charges in January against three individuals and the New Black Panther Party for allegedly threatening voters at a poll in Philadelphia during last November’s presidential election. The Justice Department effectively won the case when the defendants declined to appear before the court and challenge the charges.
Yet, when the Obama administration took control of the Justice Department, the case against the Democratic Party’s political ally was suddenly dropped. There were no new facts or evidence to justify the decision. The impression that politics played a role in the decision has been a source of concern for Rep. Wolf who has been a strident defender of voting rights.
Not only has Congress made unanswered inquiries into this matter, so too has the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. The Commission’s chairman, Gerald Reynolds, sent a letter on September 30 to Mr. Holder saying the responses were “overdue” and asking for “Department officials to fully cooperate” with the Commission’s investigation as required by federal law.
Mr. Reynolds noted that the Commission still has not received any of the documents they requested in their initial June inquiries. He said this information is needed because the Commission is responsible to investigate voting rights deprivations and evaluate federal enforcement of federal voting rights laws. They want to form an independent opinion about DOJ’s enforcement actions and the potential impact on future voter intimidation enforcement. It may also try “to determine whether any decisions in the case were induced or affected by improper influences.”
As of this date, neither members of Congress nor members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission have called for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate the matter.