Civil Rights Commission Pushes for Power to Take Justice Department to Court

The two have clashed on the case of the New Black Panther Party.

ByABC News
August 13, 2010, 2:07 PM

Aug. 13, 2010— -- The Commission on Civil Rights today approved a motion asking Congress to essentially allow it to take the Justice Department to court if it refuses to enforce the commission's subpoenas and other "lawful requests" pertaining to a lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party.

In a heated, often unruly meeting where tempers flared, most of the eight-member, conservative-heavy commission accused the Justice Department of failing to enforce the voting rights law in a race-neutral way in the case of the black panthers.

The Bush administration filed a voter intimidation lawsuit against three members of the New Black Panther Party in January 2009, alleging that they intimidated voters outside a polling place in Philadelphia in November 2008 by hurling racial slurs.

Videos circulating on the Internet showed a man holding a baton outside a polling station.

But the Obama administration dropped the lawsuit in May against all members save Malik Zulu Shabazz, who was accused of yielding the baton, saying that it couldn't find any evidence and claims by voters that they were intimidated.

"The department concluded that the allegations in the complaint against Jerry Jackson, the other defendant present at the polling place, as well as the allegations against the national New Black Panther Party and its leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, did not have sufficient evidentiary support," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez told the Commission in May. "The Department reviewed the totality of the evidence in the applicable law in reaching these decisions."

But conservative members of the commission say they want more evidence from the Justice Department, especially because a former trial attorney at the DOJ, J. Christian Adams, testified in July that the agency repeatedly showed "hostility" against cases like those involving the New Black Panther Party.

"The section doesn't want to protect white voters," Adams claimed of the DOJ's civil rights division.

The commission, which has been investigating the case since June 2009, claims it needs to hear from Chris Coates, head of the voting section of DOJ's Civil Rights Division.

But the department has yet to respond to a request by the commission for him to testify. Perez, the assistant attorney general who wasn't part of the initial investigation and joined the department in October, told Chairman Gerald A. Reynolds in a letter that Coates, who is is now working at the U.S. Attorney's office for the district of South Carolina, would not be an "appropriate witness," leading the commission's conservative members to cry foul.