Behind the Scenes of DOJ’s Black Panther Case

On Friday the Washington Post ran an extensive story on the Justice Department’s handling of a voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia.  Based upon the Post‘s reporting, which seemed quite thorough and balanced, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  1. The original case was small potatoes.  The Philadelphia district attorney’s office thought it was a “non-incident.”  Yes there were technical violations, but the Bush DoJ never identified any voters who felt intimidated by the Panthers, so it’s hard to justify making their conduct into a federal case.
  2. It may not have made sense to pursue the case in the first place, but once the Justice Department obtained a default judgment, it made no sense to dismiss it and narrow the injunction.
  3. As is so often the case, it’s not the crime but the cover-up.  Justice Department officials have never forthrightly explained their decision to dismiss the case and have alternately stone-walled and dissembled about the involvement of political appointees.  Had they instead come clean at the outset, this issue would have gone away and conservative complaints would have never gained traction (let alone this sort of coverage from the Post).
  4. The Civil Rights Division at DoJ remains politicized and divided, as it has been for quite some time, and this cannot be good for the even-handed enforcement of federal law.