A Clarification on the NBPP Case.

So, I just wanted to clear something up: I wrote my post yesterday about the Justice Department's decision not to pursue criminal charges against the NBPP during the Bush administration because I had seen conservatives arguing that it was made by the Obama administration. It wasn't. I did not mean to suggest that the civil case, which the DoJ dropped in May of last year after receiving a preliminary injunction against the only NBPP member in Philadelphia who was walking around with a baton, was dismissed during the Bush administration. I apologize if any of my writing has been unclear on this point or any confusion has resulted because I misstated the accusation of who wanted the criminal case dismissed.

As I've explained before, Section 11(b) cases, which are rare, are generally reserved for extensive voter-suppression schemes, which the two men standing outside the Philadelphia polling station did not amount to. The legal standard for proving Section 11(b) cases in the past has been extremely high, which is both why they're rare and why Section 11(b) complaints are generally filed in order to prevent large-scale voter suppression campaigns.

The original complaint in the NBPP case alleged that the behavior of the men outside the polling station was part of a larger scheme to disenfranchise white voters ("Prior to the election, Defendant New Black Panther Party For Self-Defense made statements and posted notice that over 300 members of the New Black Panther Party For Self-Defense would be deployed at polling locations during voting on November 4th 2008 throughout the United States"). But there's no evidence that's the case -- no voters in Philadelphia or elsewhere came forward to say they had been intimidated. One of them actually had a poll watching certificate, and the remarks from the NBPP leader state the obvious -- that the NBPP thought they were protecting blacks from being disenfranchised by whites. Basically what you have -- to the extent that you have anything -- is a conspiracy to wear black clothing outside of polling stations as part of a fringe group, which career attorneys at the Department of Justice weren't comfortable prosecuting as a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

If any of this is familiar, it's because we're down the ACORN rabbit hole again; despite the Government Accountability Office being unable to find a single instance in which a voter registered by ACORN cast a fraudulent ballot, the idea that the group regularly stole elections is an article of conservative faith. So with the NBPP case, with its allegation of a widespread voter-intimidation scheme that included no actual intimidated voters. Adding to the absurdity of all this is that had the case been pursued, the likely outcome would have been that instead of King Samir Shabazz -- who was brandishing a baton -- getting a slap on the wrist, the other members of the NBPP would have gotten the same slap on the wrist. The stakes here are incredibly low, which is probably one of the reasons the higher-ups in the division didn't think the case was worth pursuing.

A final point, and this is why the politicization of the Bush years is so relevant. The Washington Times has sought to portray the NBPP case as a matter of career attorneys being overruled on a legit case by political appointees -- a reversal of the charges made about the Voting Section during the Bush administration. Of the four names of Civil Rights Division attorneys on the original NBPP complaint, all have significant ties to the right or to the politicized leadership under Bush: J. Christian Adams worked for the National Republican Lawyers Association, as did Grace Chung Becker, whose nomination by the Bush administration for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights was blocked because of her support for restrictive voter ID laws that disenfranchise minorities; Robert Popper previously worked on opposing minority voting districts; and Christopher Coates, who underwent a political conversion while at the DoJ and ended up being what Bradley Schlozman referred to as "a true member of the team" at a time when the Bush administration was conducting a purge of the liberals in the Civil Rights Division.

Whether one perceives as legitimate the "whistle-blowing" element to this case depends in part on the perceived neutrality of the players -- from the supposedly "bipartisan" but functionally conservative U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to the staff members who filed the case. Describing these people as "career attorneys" is meant to suggest their decisions were apolitical when in fact they were all people who were hired or whose stock rose during an era of politicization.

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