A Texas Republican portrayed Attorney General Eric Holder as a kind of Black Power radical at a congressional hearing Tuesday, accusing him of allowing reverse racism to flourish in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“There is clearly evidence — overwhelming evidence — that your Department of Justice refuses to protect the rights of anybody other than African Americans to vote,” Rep. John Culberson told the nation’s first black Attorney General during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.
Culberson repeatedly challenged Holder over the Justice Department’s handling of a voter-intimidation case involving members of the New Black Panther Party, an issue that conservatives have been hammering on for nearly two years. The lawmaker questioned whether the race of the members of the anti-white fringe group played a role in the department’s 2009 decision to dismiss most of a civil lawsuit against them.
Holder said he “very vehemently” disagrees with the notion the department only protects the voting rights of blacks. “This Department of Justice does not enforce the laws in a race-conscious way,” Holder said. “Any allegation that has been lodged in that regard is simply false.”
The civil lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party and three members was filed by the Bush administration just days before President Barack Obama took office. It alleged the Panthers intimidated voters by wearing military-style clothing outside a polling place in a black Philadelphia neighborhood during the November 2008 election. One of the men held a nightstick.
The conservative-led U.S. Commission on Civil Rights spent most of the last two years investigating the DOJ’s handling of the case. The commission said in a report on its investigation that the department did not completely address “serious accusations” made by former DOJ Civil Rights Division J. Christian Adams and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Coates, the former chief of the Civil Rights Division Voting Section, about opposition in the DOJ to taking up voting rights cases against minorities. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the last attorney general in the administration of President George W. Bush, also has expressed concern about the DOJ’s handling of the case.
At the hearing, Culberson quoted Bartle Bull, who had been among the poll watchers at the Philadelphia precinct in 2008, as calling the New Black Panther incident “the most blatant form of voter intimidation” he had ever seen. In appearances on Fox News about the Black Panthers incident, Bull has described himself as a former Democratic activist and civil rights lawyer in Mississippi in the 1960s.
Holder, who is black, seemed irritated by the comment. The Attorney General often has touted the accomplishments of civil rights movement and has praised his late sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones, who was among the first black students at the University of Alabama.
“When you compare what people endured in the South in the 60s to try to get the right to vote for African Americans and to compare what people were subjected to there to what happened in Philadelphia is inappropriate,” Holder said. “To describe it in those terms, I think does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line for … my people.”
Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah, who represents parts of Philadelphia, said it is “bogus” that the New Black Panthers case has gained national significance.
“This fiction created by Fox News is that that they were there intimidating voters,” said Fattah, who is the top Democrat on the panel. “There were no allegations from the voters they were intimidated.”
Holder came before the subcommittee to testify about the DOJ’s $28.2 billion fiscal 2012 budget request. This was the first time the Attorney General appeared before a House panel since Republicans took control of the House in January.