Corbett Admin. Invokes New Black Panthers in Voter ID Letter to Justice Dept.
In late July, the U.S. Justice Department sent a letter to Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele noting it would be probing the state’s Voter ID laws—including the state’s erroneous claim that “99 percent of Pennsylvania’s eligible voters already have acceptable photo ID.” Yesterday, the state responded and sunk to new lows when it accused the feds of asking about their claims for political purposes and citing the 2008 New Black Panther case in Philly.
The letter from the governor’s administration—specifically, General Counsel James Schultz—is a 4-page screed full of denials, passive aggression and weird, twisted arguments that add up to the state deciding it’s not happy with the federal request for the state’s voter registration database, voter education information on the law and the state’s driver’s license database. And that the feds have no authority to request said information in the first place.
“Upon my initial review of your letter,” writes Schultz, “I was optimistic that surely your inquiry marked the long overdue renewal of the Department of Justice’s previously abandoned review of the 2008 voter intimidation case in Philly, a review that would be particularly well-timed in this presidential election year, as I trust Attorney General Holder and the Department of Justice share the Commonwealth’s commitment to ensuring that no violation of the voting rights of Pennsylvanians be tolerated.”
He continues: “My optimism proved unwarranted as I read your letter and learned that you are requesting information concerning [the Voter ID law].”
Schultz’s “long overdue” concerns took place on Election Day 2008, when a Republican operative filmed members of the New Black Panther party—a tiny, fringe group of black racists with no connection to the original 60s radical group—standing outside a polling place on Fairmount Avenue wearing military gear. One member held a nightstick. Voter intimidation was alleged and a small media firestorm erupted.
The next year, the U.S. Justice Department narrowed the case, focusing on the member of the duo who held the stick, claiming they didn’t have sufficient evidence to pursue the case against the other defendants. That claim enraged many on the right, including former Justice Department lawyer J. Christian Adams, who claimed those within the civil rights division in the U.S. Justice Department were only interested in protecting minorities. No witnesses could be produced who said the NBP actually intimidated or physically stopped anyone from voting, and the members involved were not sent to prison. This created even more right rage.
To figure the case out, the Dept. of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility offered a report in March 2011, which found nothing wrong with the way the case was handled. Contrary to Adams’ statements, which have been parroted by Internet commenters and Fox News hosts, the Dept. “did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment, but rather acted appropriately, in the exercise of their supervisory duties in connection with the dismissal of the three defendants in the NBPP case,” they found, after going through “thousands of pages of internal Department e-mails, memoranda, and notes.”
Many believed the entire case was a wild goose chase to bring down the Attorney General. “My fellow conservatives on the commission had this wild notion they could bring Eric Holder down and really damage the president,” noted Bush-appointed Commission on Civil Rights chair Abigail Thernstrom at the time. As Adam Serwer noted at the Washington Post, the case was “a colossal waste of time and taxpayer resources,” and a “a years-long journey into the fevered right-wing imagination.”
It didn’t end there. Rather, such a finding was oft-used to prove that the conspiracy within the Obama administration stretched further than anyone had previously believed, as seems to be the case with Schultz’s letter to the DOJ. Fox News, specifically its weird web aggregate Fox Nation, continues linking to stories about the New Black Panthers, giving them unwarranted legitimacy.
But whatever. The New Black Panther ordeal is just a sidebar in Schultz’s letter. The Administration has actually claimed the DOJ is overstepping its authority because of political opposition—and says all questions the feds have were already answered in last week’s state decision, where it was found that the law is compliant with the state constitution by the Commonwealth court, even though the DOJ’s request concerns federal, not state, law.
As noted by Talking Points Memo, Schultz specifically notes Pennsylvania is not covered by Section 5 of the VRA, which requires states with histories of racism and discrimination clear voting laws with the DOJ before moving forth. However, the DOJ is actually looking into Section 2 of the Act, which prohibits voting practices which discriminate based on race.
Schultz concludes, saying the state would be willing to provide the same documentation—even though the DOJ is playing politics—given the DOJ agrees to confidentiality. “You can appreciate our desire to ensure the professional handling of this confidential information,” the letter reads, “particularly here, where unlike the petitioners in the Commonwealth Court litigation, you are without authority to request or compel the production of the requested information.”
The DOJ has previously blocked Voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina.
The New Black Panthers have recently noted, according to Fox Nation, that at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL, “our feet will be on your motherfucking necks,” and when they get around to it, the group wants to kill white babies.