Smith Asks GOP Senators To Hold Up Perez
By Andrew Ramonas | August 7, 2022 4:03 pm

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) cannot vote on presidential nominations. But Smith is trying to hold up Justice Department Civil Rights Division nominee Thomas Perez until DOJ gives the House member more information about the dismissal of voter-intimidation charges against members of the militant New Black Panthers.

Tom Perez (maryland.gov)

Tom Perez (maryland.gov)

Smith urged the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today to put a hold on Perez. The House Judiciary ranking member said the Justice Department responses to letters he sent on May 28, July 9 and July 17 about the dismissal have been “overly vague, raising concerns about possible political interference in this case.” Read all of the letters from Smith and DOJ here.

Lamar Smith (Gov)

Lamar Smith (Gov)

Smith and other House Republicans have alleged for months that politics played a role in the case dismissal. The Washington Times reported last month that Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, a political appointee, approved a recommendation by Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King to drop voter intimidation charges against members of the militant New Black Panthers.

But King, who’s been acting head of the division since January, told Perrelli she had “concerns” about the case during a regular review meeting, The Times reported. King recommended some of the charges be dismissed, and Perrelli agreed. Read our previous report about The Times article here.

The Justice Department has denied the accusations made by Smith. DOJ spokesperson Tracy Schmaler told Main Justice today “top career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division” made the decision that some of the charges be dismissed.

In a four-page letter sent July 13, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said DOJ officials will meet with Smith to further discuss the matter and he explained how DOJ handled each of the New Black Panthers members listed in the initial DOJ complaint.

King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson (Getty Images)

King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson (Getty Images)

The 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.

The Justice Department essentially won the case when the defendants failed to contest it. But DOJ decided to file for dismissal of the case instead of getting a default judgment. The dismissal did not extend to one defendant, King Samir Shabazz. Read the DOJ’s filing here. Read our original report on the “controversy” here.

“We assure you that the Department is committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of federal law that prohibit voter intimidation,” Weich said in the letter. “We continue to work with voters, communities, and local law enforcement to ensure that every American can vote free from intimidation, coercion or threats.”

Smith also requested in the July 9 letter that the DOJ Office of Inspector General investigate the matter. Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote in a July 21 letter that he forwarded Smith’s request to the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility. Fine said OPR — not OIG — was the appropriate office to handle Smith’s request.

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have not jumped on the dismissal like Smith has, but they have not been too keen on Perez.

Perez was reported out of committee June 4 by a 17-2 vote. Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) were the only senators to oppose the Civil Rights Division nominee in committee.

Jeff Sessions (Getty Images)

Jeff Sessions (Getty Images)

Sessions, the ranking member of the committee, called into question last month Perez’s prior work on the board of CASA de Maryland, an influential immigrant advocacy group that has come under fire by anti-immigration groups.

Coburn said last month that Perez, former director of the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has supported providing translators to illegal immigrants who are receiving medical care. The Oklahoma senator, a medical doctor who operated on people without U.S. citizenship, said providing illegal immigrants with interpreters would “wreck health care.”

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Coburn and Sessions got a “much clearer view” of the Civil Rights Division nominee from a meeting they had with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Perez. Sessions said it was “a good meeting.”

A Republican spokesperson for the Senate Judiciary Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

Joe Palazzolo contributed to this report.

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The Senate Democratic leader describes the Republicans' refusal to hold hearings on President Obama's eventual Supreme Court nominee "historically unbelievable and historically unprecedented."


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