This week Congress held hearings on the controversial decision by the Obama Administration to drop charges against Black Panther members for voter intimidation in Philadelphia in 2008. I have previously criticized the decision since I fail to see how these pictures did not show intimidation and the Obama Administration has created a dangerous precedent (if not an invitation) for other groups to engage in the same practices at polling places. In the hearing, Christopher Coates, former voting chief for the department’s Civil Rights Division, called the decision a “travesty of justice” and deepened the controversy over the policies and practices in that division.
Coates testimony has long been resisted by the Administration, particularly after former Justice official J. Christian Adams came out in July with a stinging rebuke of the decision. Adams claimed that the Administration showed open hostility to cases where victims were white and defendants were black.
Coates seemed to back up such claims and said that the Obama Administration abandoned a “race-neutral” approach to enforcing the Voting Rights Act.
What was strange in this case is that the Justice Department had already secured a default victory but suddenly moved to dismiss the charges. In return, the Black Panthers reportedly agreed to not carry “weapon[s]” near a polling place until 2012 – a rather bizarre agreement.
I am a bit surprised by the relatively little media coverage given the testimony. One can disagree with the testimony, but it clearly raises substantial concerns and policy questions. This is clearly not a huge case and I would not think that it would normally generate a major sanction. Indeed, it was overblown when it occurred by conservative sites. Nevertheless, it was worthy of prosecution and the dismissal of the action magnified the controversy over the future standard for intimidation cases.
My concern remains the standard created for future cases. I would think that the decision would embolden other groups from skinheads to extreme religious groups in “policing” polling places. I can understand if this was viewed as simply a minor case, but it would seem to have warranted some formal sanction, even a small one.
In the very least, the Administration needs to give a more substantial account of the decision to drop the case. With Coates’ testimony, this controversy will only grow — particularly with the possible Republican takeover of the House.
Source: LA Times