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GOP and New Black Panthers: Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing

The Civil Rights Commission has become the attack dog lackey of the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, and it will be no surprise when it issues a hysterical red-baiting screed castigating the Obama Administration.
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If you have an unholy addiction to Fox News, you might have seen the nonstop editorializing about the Justice Department and the New Black Panther Party incident in 2008. According to Fox, the bipartisan independent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been investigating the allegations, lending an aura of credibility to what would otherwise be the splenetic ventings of a former Bush hire in the Department of Justice.

As a Commissioner since 2005, I can attest that there is nothing independent or bipartisan about the Commission. In the past three years, the Commission has come out in favor of ending all government minority business programs, railed against school desegregation, sat on its hands during the extension of the Voting Rights Act, advocated for the gutting of Title IX programs in college, and, most recently, decreed that elite universities only admit elite students -- a backdoor, and wrongheaded characterization of affirmative action admissions policies.

So it should come as no surprise that a minor incident in a single precinct in 2008 has been elevated by the Commission's right wing as a wedge race issue for the 2010 mid-term elections.

Here are the unvarnished facts: The New Black Panther Party is a fringe, racist organization of a few hundred individuals nationwide. Two of their members engaged in what can charitably be termed a misguided attempt at voter intimidation or protection (they were standing in front of a polling place in Philadelphia with a 95% African American voter base, so it's not exactly clear what they were trying to do, and I don't think they knew either). One carried a nightstick. Poll watchers inside the polling place did not report anyone commenting positive or negatively on their presence. However, several white McCain election monitors arrived on the scene, one with a videocam (that went straight to YouTube) and a verbal confrontation ensued. Aside from that contretemps, however, no voters were intimidated, no voters complained, and, in fact, the Panthers were gone well before noon after the police arrived and asked them to leave. Later, the Bush Administration DoJ charged the two and the national leader of the Panthers with a Voting Rights Act Section 11(b) voter intimidation charge, which allows Justice to request an injunction against them. When the Obama Administration took over, a decision was made to only proceed against the idiot with the nightstick and dismiss the charges against the others.

Somehow, the decision to dismiss the remaining charges has become Exhibit A in the indictment against the Obama Administration as proof that there exists a double standard in protecting the voting rights of blacks versus the voting rights of white.

The only proof that this vast left-wing conspiracy exists comes from a conservative Republican activist named J. Christian Adams, who was a staff attorney in DoJ until about a month ago. Adams was one of the new hires made by the scandal-plagued Bush DoJ, in which two separate independent reports found that hiring inside DoJ and the Civil Rights Division was plagued by illegal consideration of ideological and political grounds. Adams, who while at Justice continued to attack President Obama in public writings, alleges that individuals within Justice have made statements that they are not interested in protecting the voting rights of whites.

It should be noted that there is zero -- repeat, zero -- substantiation of his claims by anyone who was not part of the tainted hiring and promotion process within the Bush Justice Department. And there is certainly zero -- again, repeat, zero -- claims that anyone has come forward with a complaint that the rights of white voters have been violated and ignored by DoJ.

On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that the Bush DoJ, both before and including the time that Adams claims he was a nonpartisan prosecutor of voting rights violations, ignored numerous examples of blatant voter intimidation. Arizona anti-immigration activists harassing Latino voters while wearing fake badges and openly carrying guns; campaign officials targeting new voters of immigrant backgrounds with false information that immigrants can't vote; cross-burnings in racially-charged elections, and more were all ignored by the Bush DoJ.

Yet do you hear any hue or cry from the Civil Rights Commission right-wing majority? Do you see subpoenas being issued for the DoJ officials responsible for those decisions during the Bush Administration? Of course not.

The Commission has become the attack dog lackey of the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. The only bipartisan agreement is between the two Democrats on the Commission (Arlan Melendez is the other Democrat) and Abigail Thernstrom, one of the Commission's conservative Republicans (and with whom I disagree about 90% of the time), that the Commission investigation into this matter is a one-sided predetermined farce. The remaining five members have made statements that are McCarthyesque, hinting that secret cabals of attorneys within DoJ are conspiring to violate the voting rights of white, employing scare tactics that "massive voter fraud" will go forward under the Obama DoJ. Our report is due in September -- timed, of course, for the mid-term elections -- and it will be no surprise when it issues a hysterical red-baiting screed castigating the Obama Administration.

The lack of credible evidence is no deterrent to my colleagues. The hypocrisy in ignoring the Bush DoJ's lack of prosecution of far more egregious cases is not a barrier. The fact that this individual case is practically insignificant in the annals of voting rights law is simply ignored.

Lost in this partisan political dogfight is the true mission of the Commission - to deal honestly, factually, and courageously on matters of discrimination and race in this country. At its inception, the requirement that the Commission be evenly divided between the two political parties was more a concession to the politics of appropriations approval than it was in terms of the partisanship of its members. It is exactly the reverse today. As it continues to allocate its dwindling resources to this fools' errand, its credibility continues its inexorable fade into obscurity.

Luckily, the President has two appointments in December that will tilt the balance of the Commission back at least towards a 4-4 liberal-conservative balance. Perhaps then -- but I'm not holding my breath -- we can get back to the real work at hand at dealing with the real race and discrimination issues still confronting our country today.

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