Republicans Push For New Black Panther Hearing

The seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have sent a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee chairman, calling for a hearing on potential "widespread politicization and possible corruption" in the Justice Department, The Hill reports.

The call for a hearing is tied to allegations that the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has been politicized, as evidenced by a decision to drop most of a federal lawsuit against members of the New Black Panther Party, who were videotaped allegedly intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day in November 2008.

The incident took place in a predominantly African-American, Democrat-voting district.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said in a letter earlier this month it had evidence raising "serious concerns" about whether the department's policies "are being pursued in a race-neutral fashion."

Former Justice Department lawyer J. Christian Adams, who was hired under the Bush administration and developed the case against the New Black Panther Party, testified to the Commission on Civil Rights that the case was narrowed in an effort to protect minorities. The allegation prompted a firestorm in the conservative media. The Justice Department denied that it makes decisions about which cases to pursue based on anything other than their merits.

In their letter, posted here by Politico, the seven GOP lawmakers quoted Adams' claim that within the Civil Rights Division there is "open hostility toward equal enforcement in a colorblind way."

They write: "It is imperative that you schedule a hearing immediately so we can determine the validity of these claims and whether DOJ, as Mr. Adams testified, 'abetted wrongdoers and abandoned law-abiding citizens.'"

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent notes, the Senate Judiciary Committee already held a hearing on the Civil Rights Division back in April, where Republicans pressed Justice officials on the New Black Panther case. That heading was before Adams made his claims.

There are two investigations underway into the situation, including one from the Commission on Civil Rights, which is expected to release a report in September.

Abigail Thernstrom, a Bush appointee and the vice chair of the Commission, said on Sunday's "Face the Nation" that "We certainly have no direct evidence that anybody in the Justice Department said 'We're not going to prosecute this case because we have racial double standards: We protect blacks, we don't protect whites.'"

Thernstrom argued that "the evidence is extremely weak" for racial bias within the department tied to the case.

Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund countered that "the Justice Department is stonewalling subpoenas issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights" and said not all the facts in the case are yet known.

"Two African-American poll watchers testified they were intimidated," he said. "We saw testimony that the voters said they turned around and said they would came back; we don't know if they ever came back."

Fund said there was a pattern of "consistent politicization" in the Justice Department, pointing to Voting Rights Act decisions in the South.

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