WASHINGTON -- The United States Commission on Civil Rights has released its report, including statements by Commissioners, on the implications of the Justice Department's actions in the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) case: Race Neutral Enforcement of the Law? DOJ and the New Black Panther Party Litigation: An Interim Report. The interim report has been transmitted to the President and Congress pursuant to the Commission's statute which provides that the Commission "shall submit to the President and Congress at least one report annually that monitors Federal civil rights enforcement efforts in the United States."
The NBPP case arose when two members of the Party wearing paramilitary uniforms, one of whom was carrying a billy club and yelling racial epithets, stood outside a Philadelphia polling place on the day of the general election in November 2008. The incident was caught on video, posted on YouTube, and played on news stations.
After filing a lawsuit against the two Philadelphia Panthers, the Party, and the Party's chairman in January 2009 alleging violation of the federal law prohibiting voter intimidation, the Justice Department reversed course in May 2009, unilaterally dismissing three of the defendants and greatly reducing the relief originally sought against the defendant with the billy club.
In the course of looking into why the Department chose to dismiss most of the suit, the Commission heard testimony from two DOJ attorneys and members of the NBPP trial team, former Voting Section Chief Christopher Coates and J. Christian Adams, who under oath stated to the Commission that there was a culture of hostility within the Department's Civil Rights Division to the race-neutral application of the nation's voting laws.
The interim report summarizes the information the Commission has gathered during its investigation, and points to additional facts needed but so far not produced by DOJ in order for the Commission to reach final conclusions. The report finds, therefore, that the Department has not fully cooperated with the Commission, as the Commission's statute requires all federal agencies to do. It finds also that the Department has a conflict of interest in those circumstances where the Department refuses to enforce Commission subpoenas for witnesses and information under the Department's control. The Commission recommends that Congress examine whether to change the Commission's statute to deal with conflicts of interest such as this.
Parts I through V of the Report which describe the investigation, and the appendix, were approved by a vote of 5-2 on November 19, 2010. Chairman Reynolds and Commissioners Gaziano, Heriot, Kirsanow and Taylor voted in the majority. Commissioners Yaki and Melendez voted against the report. Vice Chair Thernstrom was absent.
The Commission, by a separate 5-2 vote breaking down along the same lines, found that the Commission's authority to seek legal recourse when the Attorney General refuses to enforce Commission subpoenas, as has occurred repeatedly during this investigation, is unclear. By a vote of 5-1-1, the Commission further found that the Department has an inherent conflict of interest in instances where it would prefer not to cooperate fully with the Commission's investigations of DOJ's actions.
Commissioners' individual concurring, dissenting, and/or rebuttal statements analyze and comment on the body of the report, its findings and sole recommendation, and related matters.