The Department of Justice is disputing a Washington Times report claiming that Obama administration political appointees overruled career Civil Rights Division attorneys in dismissing a voter-intimidation lawsuit against members of the militant Black Panthers. In an editorial, the Times expressed dismay the story hadn’t been “front-page news.”
In a statement issued by Civil Rights Division spokesman Alejandro Miyar, the DOJ said:
Contrary to the report in the Washington Times, a career attorney in the Civil Rights Division made the final decision to dismiss charges against three of the defendants in this case following a thorough review that determined the facts and the law did not support pursuing the claims in this case
Miyar did not identify the career attorney, but it’s undoubtedly one of the DOJ lawyers listed on the motion to dismiss below (keep reading, scroll down).
The Black Panther incident at a Philadelphia polling station last Nov. 4 had become fodder for Fox News. View their report here:
The Justice Department had already effectively won the case when the defendants failed to contest it. The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, wrote a letter to the DOJ yesterday protesting the decision to drop the charges.
The DOJ complaint said Malik Zulu Shabazz, Minister King Samir Shabazz, and Jerry Jackson brandished weapons and used “coercion, threats and intimidation” to harass voters, both black and white, at a Philadelphia polling place last Nov. 4. The defendants wore “military-style uniforms” including black berets and combat boots, the complaint said.
Read the complaint here.
The complaint was signed by Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General Civil Rights Division; Christopher Coates, chief of the Voting Section; J. Christian Adams, an attorney in the Voting Section. The names of then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Robert Popper, deputy chief of the Voting Section, were also on the complaint, though without their signatures.
A 2008 New York Times editorial criticized Becker during her confirmation hearings as having taken “stands that undermine civil rights.” She was never confirmed by the Senate.
Now, Loretta King is the Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. On May 15, the DOJ moved to dismiss the charges against Jackson and Malik Zulu Shabazz without prejudice, but not against the third defendant, King Samir Shabazz. King’s name was on the motion to dismiss, along with Coates, Popper and Adams. Voting Section attorney Spencer R. Fisher was added.
DOJ spokesman Miyar told the Washington Times the department was “successful in obtaining an injunction that prohibits the defendant who brandished a weapon outside a Philadelphia polling place from doing so again. Claims were dismissed against the other defendants based on a careful assessment of the facts and the law.”
This story was updated from its original version to reflect the Department of Justice’s statement rebutting the Washington Times report.