Lawmaker Seeks Answers on Black Panthers Case
By Ryan J. Reilly | December 17, 2009 11:32 pm

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) introduced a resolution this week that would direct Attorney General Eric Holder to provide Congress with “all information” relating to the Justice Department’s dismissal of a case against members of the New Black Panther Party.

The measure was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Because the measure is a resolution of inquiry, dealing with information that the House needs to perform its work, it has a special parliamentary status, and must be dealt with within 14 legislative days, according to House rules. The most likely action is a Judiciary Committee markup.

Here is Rep. Wolf’s statement as he introduced the resolution on Wednesday:

“I rise today to introduce a Resolution of Inquiry directing the attorney general to transmit to the House all information relating to the decision to dismiss an important voter intimidation case, United States v. New Black Panther Party. The case sought to enforce Voting Rights Act statutes against members of the New Black Panther Party that threatened Philadelphia voters — both verbally and physically — last year.

“This case was inexplicably dismissed earlier this year — over the ardent objections of the career attorneys overseeing the case as well as the department’s own appeal office.

“I regret that Congress must resort to oversight resolutions as a means to receive information about the dismissal of this case, but the Congress and the American people have a right to know why this case was not prosecuted.

“As ranking Republican member of the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Justice Department, I take oversight of the department very seriously.

“I also strongly support voting rights protections. In 1981, I was the only member — Republican or Democrat — of the Virginia delegation in the House to vote for the Voting Rights Act and was harshly criticized by the editorial page of the Richmond Times Dispatch, and when I supported its reauthorization in 2006, I was criticized again by editorial pages.

“Time and again over the last year, the department has stonewalled any effort to learn about the decision to dismiss this case. I have written Attorney General Holder on six occasions asking for an explanation for the dismissal of this case. To date, I have received no response from him.

“I wrote the DOJ inspector general to request a review of this decision. He deferred to the Office of Professional Responsibility – which reports directly to the attorney general. I have written the Office of Professional Responsibility seeking information on its investigation. The office has refused to share any information.

“In fact, the only response I have received — from a legislative affairs staffer -– was woefully incomplete and -– in places -– inaccurate.

“Two months ago, I met with House Judiciary Chairman Conyers to ask for his assistance in obtaining this information, but he has yet to take any action. This is a shameful failure to provide necessary congressional oversight.

“It is not only Congress that is being stonewalled by the attorney general. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has repeatedly sought this same information, in fulfillment of its statutory responsibility to ensure the enforcement of civil rights law.

“After being similarly rebuffed, the commission filed subpoenas with the department for this information as well as to interview the career attorneys that handled the case.

“However, we understand that the attorney general has instructed his department to ignore these subpoenas. The nation’s chief law enforcement officer is forcing these career attorneys to choose between complying with the law and complying with the attorney general’s obstruction.

“At least one of the attorneys has been compelled to obtain private counsel.

“I urge the House Judiciary Committee to report this resolution out favorably and to demand that the attorney general answer the questions surrounding this case. The career attorneys and Appellate Division within the department sought to demonstrate the federal government’s commitment to protecting voting rights by vigorously prosecuting any individual or group that seeks to undermine this right.

“This House must not turn a blind eye to the attorney general’s obstruction. He has an obligation to answer the legitimate questions of the House and the Civil Rights Commission. It is imperative that we protect the right of all Americans to vote — the sacrosanct and inalienable right of any democracy.”

In other developments related to the New Black Panther matter, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division, confirmed to reporters on Thursday that several current and former employees of the division had been subpoenaed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

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