Streetcar Line

Panther Case: No Shot in the Dark

A guided tour to the Department of Justice's perfidy on the Black Panthers.

By 10.4.10

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Even after an above-the-fold, front-page story in the Washington Post, the establishment media seems determined to sit back and wait rather than do any "enterprise reporting" on the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case and, more importantly, on the much bigger and broader policy and ethics questions swirling around it. This is a serious dereliction of journalistic responsibility. For those reporters who actually want to do their jobs, and for all of you readers who rightly continue to insist that this is an important topic, herewith is a guided tour to the Panther scandal and its broader implications.

The uncontroverted story on Election Day, 2008
Panthers Minister King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson, in black paramilitary garb, stood outside the polling place in close formation, Shabazz brandishing a night-stick, while they used racial epithets and threatening language and gestures. Witnesses reported seeing at least several voters take stock of the situation and turn around and leave without voting. Former Kennedy family civil rights lawyer Bartle Bull, who was on the scene, said it was the worst example of voter intimidation he had ever seen. Not one person, in any forum, has ever contested these basic facts. Ever.

The charges
A team of Department of Justice (DoJ) career attorneys led by former ACLU attorney and multiple award-winning lawyer Christopher Coates brought civil rights charges against both Panthers on the scene, plus against national Panther leader Malik Zulu Shabazz and the national party as a whole, based on statements made by Shabazz and other Panther leaders indicating that the stationing of Mr. Jackson and the other (unrelated) Shabazz was part of a nationwide effort. The attorney team wanted to secure a nationwide injunction against all the defendants, prohibiting them from any similar activity in future elections. (The Panthers also would have been subject to repaying the DoJ for legal costs expended during the proceedings.) The Panthers failed even to contest the charges. The judge was ready to enter a default judgment against them, but just when the lawyers were ready to submit the paperwork, Obama political-appointee superiors pulled the plug. Charges were completely dropped against Zulu Shabazz, the party, and Mr. Jackson -- the latter a registered Democratic Party poll-watcher and local elected Democratic Party official. Samir Shabazz received an injunction against brandishing a weapon within 100 feet of polls -- already illegal anyway -- only within the city limits of Philadelphia and only for the next four years.

The DoJ lawyers
In addition to the aforementioned Mr. Coates, the other major career attorney who brought the case also has an excellent court record. J. Christian Adams won commendations for protecting the rights of black voters in South Carolina, and received promotions under both the Bush and the Obama administrations. Yes, he has a history as a political conservative. So what? Has anybody challenged his lawyership or integrity? Nope. Has any of his sworn testimony been proved false? No: It all has been backed by others in affidavits and in other sworn testimony.

Meanwhile, in an unusual move, the Obama team asked DoJ's appellate division to weigh in on the case -- and both appellate lawyers, Diana K. Flynn and Marie K. McElderry, came down on the side of pursuing all the cases, not just the one against Samir Shabazz. Ms. Flynn, like Mr. Coates, does not have major Republican ties: Indeed, she has been cited in news reports as having given information damaging to Bush political appointees accused of improperly using political considerations in hiring decisions.

On the other hand, the two lawyers with most immediate authority in overruling the career team both have checkered records. Both Loretta King and Steve Rosenbaum have earned sanctions from federal courts for ethical violations. Mr. Rosenbaum worked on a case on behalf of ACORN in the 1990s with Barack Obama. Ms. King is a hyper-partisan liberal who issued one of the most absurdly tendentious voting-law rulings imaginable, telling a black-majority North Carolina town that it is incapable of electing its own "candidates of choice" unless the candidates are identified as Democrats. Both King and Rosenbaum have occupied "career" positions at DoJ, but both were serving in temporary "political" positions during the time the Panther case was dropped.

Mr. Rosenbaum consulted at least 58 times by e-mail with Sam Hirsch, a political appointee and former top lawyer for the national Democratic Party. Also deeply involved in the decision was political appointee Tom Perrelli, a former Harvard Law Review managing editor under Obama who raised half a million dollars for the Obama campaign. Mr. Perrelli visited the White House on numerous occasions that almost always coincided with key developments in the Panther case.

The political involvement
It is hard to stress just how important this point is, at least for establishing the relative credibility of the major players. Again and again (and again and again), Obama appointees have told the media and testified under oath that the decision to punt away these cases were made exclusively by "career" appointees -- later modified to say that the career appointees did vaguely keep "political" higher-ups informed of their decisions. Setting aside the technical dispute of whether King and Rosenbaum (the supposed decision-makers) were acting in political capacities at the time, this claim does not even come close to passing the smell test. Mr. Hirsch's 58 email messages, including a dozen up the line to Mr. Perrelli (and mentions of at least some consultation as well with the top two people then in the department, Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy AG David Ogden), show on their face that the political appointees were not merely passive recipients of information, but active participants in deciding to drop the case. This raises issues of potential perjury by civil rights division chief Thomas Perez -- who testified otherwise to the US. Commission on Civil Rights -- and also raises the same questions that sent the media into a tizzy when President Bush fired eight U.S. attorneys in 2006. Namely, this: Did political appointees not just implement policy, but actually interfere with a particular case for political reasons? To do the latter is a way of obstructing justice, and is highly improper.

The political question gets more serious if the White House interfered. That's why two Washington Times reports from January, detailing Mr. Perrelli's White House meetings, are so important. Less than two weeks ago, the non-profit watchdog group Judicial Watch, which unearthed the existence of the Hirsch e-mails, filed suit to get more information about those Perrelli meetings. One question curious reporters ought to be asking is, who is the unnamed official who sat in on certain of those meetings? Was it Van Jones? Was it Rahm Emanuel? Was it the president himself?

What also is clearer than ever, after sworn testimony by Mr. Coates, is that current and former officials with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund have shown unusual interest in, and weighed in about, this case from the very start. Again, was that outside involvement of the sort that amounts to undue political interference with law enforcement?

The important policy questions
Almost from the moment the story broke about the case being dropped, writers following the case (including, but far from limited to, yours truly) have said this is far more than just a case about an incident at a single polling place, but instead was about the hugely important question of whether the Obama DoJ has adopted a policy long favored in the bowels of the DoJ's Civil Rights Division. The alleged policy is to enforce civil rights laws only to protect racial or language minorities, but not to protect whites (and maybe Asians as well) from black perpetrators -- even in jurisdictions where whites are a small minority and black officials hold immense power.

Nobody, absolutely nobody, will say on the record that this would be an acceptable or lawful policy -- because it is manifestly lawless. Even Michael Yaki, the member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who has played point man for the administration's defense, said this in open hearing on July 16: "If someone made that statement [about choosing not to enforce the laws equally] within the Department of Justice, that person should be fired. That person should be tossed out on their ear in two seconds flat." Mr. Yaki has since written to this publication that his comment was taken out of context (it wasn't), because he said it was clear that he does not believe this sort of thing is indeed going on at DoJ. Well, since then, Mr. Coates has provided sworn testimony to that effect, and provided all sorts of examples of how and when those statements were made and their attitudes implemented. Most important is that Mr. Coates said he officially recommended more than a year ago that DoJ take enforcement actions against eight states that were not scrubbing their voter rolls of dead people and felons -- and, as is a matter of public record, DoJ still has not acted.

Mr. Adams, for his part, has filed notice letters to 16 states that private citizens may sue them to force what looks like clear violations of the voter-scrubbing statute. Again, if DoJ were doing its job, rather than following the policy to whose existence Messrs. Coates and Adams testified, then these suits would not even be on the radar.

The sworn testimony of both attorneys is highly credible. Numerous other employees of DoJ were in attendance when some of these policy statements were made. They should be asked to testify about these issues -- and no conceivable legal privilege could be cited to block such testimony, because no "deliberative process" on any particular case was involved.

Not only that, but the story told by Mr. Coates about Civil Rights Division hostility to race-neutral enforcement of the law is entirely believable on another count. The fact -- not opinion, fact -- is that despite Bush administration efforts to politicize hiring at DoJ, the career ranks of the department skew heavily to the political left. In 2008, as of two weeks before the last election, DoJ attorneys in the DC metro area alone had donated more than $150,000 to the Obama campaign. The Civil Rights Division long has been known to skew particularly heavily to the left of left. Anybody who has spent any time with the liberal academicians who dominate most law schools today knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the policies allegedly embraced by the Obama Justice Department reflect views rampant in liberal legal circles. To even claim otherwise is to tell a bald-faced lie.

The specter of perjury, and the abuse of a whistleblower
Mr. Perez, the now-head of the Civil Rights Division (confirmed long after the Panther case was dropped), could be in real trouble. As Brit Hume noted in an on-air commentary at Fox News, the question of potential perjury should now be raised. Mr. Perez told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, under oath, that he was unaware of any serious allegations of such a policy of race-biased enforcement of civil rights laws, and that he would not put up with any employee who embraced or pursued such a policy. But now Mr. Coates and Mr. Adams have said they specifically informed Mr. Perez of their credible allegations to that effect before Mr. Perez's testimony. And now there are reports that Mr. Coates wrote a memo in April -- a month before Mr. Perez' testimony - outlining these complaints. This issue, combined with Mr. Perez' highly misleading testimony to the effect of a lack of political-appointee involvement in the decision-making, makes Mr. Perez' credibility almost nil.

Now come reports that DoJ officials tried to intimidate Mr. Coates, the night before his testimony, to keep him from testifying. This intimidation letter came after U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf sent a letter to Holder warning him that Mr. Coates had claimed whistleblower status, and that it is explicitly illegal to try to interfere with a whistleblower's testimony.

Perjury? Racially biased justice? Abuse of a whistleblower? Political interference with an ongoing law-enforcement case? These are issues and allegations that, individually and alone, usually send the establishment media into a tizzy. All together, they should be attracting almost-wall-to-wall coverage on the network news.

Abuse of claims of various legal "privileges"
Finally, the media usually goes bonkers when administrations block the free flow of public information by making expansive claims of executive privilege and all sorts of other, lesser claims of "privilege" against the ordinary requirements that government be transparent. It is now worth noting that the Obama DoJ's privilege claims in this instance go so far beyond the usual bounds that jaws should be dropping, aghast at the sight.

Conclusion
Come on, media. Do your jobs.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.