Holder: Rhetoric On New Black Panther Case Does ‘Great Disservice’ To Civil Rights History


Attorney General Eric Holder went up for his first round of hearings in the Republican-controlled House on Tuesday, where he faced questions over the Justice Department’s handling of a two-year-old voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party.Though there’s already been an extended investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in addition to an ongoing inquiry by DOJ’s Inspector General into whether the Civil Rights Divisions enforces the law in a race-neutral fashion, the Republican members of the House Appropriation Committee’s subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science indicated they’re not letting up.

“We’re going really pursue this, this is not acceptable,” Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) told Holder.

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), who represents the congressional district where the voter intimidation incident took place, had a bit of fun with the premise of the question — by asking Holder whether DOJ’s decision not to prosecute former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TexasX) or the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) had anything to do with the fact that they’re Caucasian.

“You didn’t do that based on his race, right?” Fattah asked Holder of the Stevens case.

“Uh, no,” Holder said, answering the same way when asked about DOJ’s decision on the DeLay matter.

“I want to assure you and the American people that the Justice Department under my leadership and as part of the Obama administration enforces all the laws without regard to race, ethnicity or political persuasion of anybody who might be involved in a particular decision,” Holder said.

“We have simply tried to follow the law, apply the law in a race-neutral way and any assertions to the contrary are simply not consistent with the facts,” Holder said.

Holder got particularly heated when Culberson read a quote from former Democratic activist turned McCain supporter Bartle Bull, who called the incident the most serious act of voter intimidation he ever witnessed.

“I think that the quote that you read from that gentleman that this was the ‘greatest affront’… think about that,” Holder said. “When you compare what people endured in the South in the 60s to try to get the right to vote for African-Americans, and to compare what people subjected to there to what happened in Philadelphia, which was inappropriate… but to describe that in those terms I think does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line for, who risked it all, for my people,” said Holder, the nation’s first African-American Attorney General.

Holder brought up his late sister-in-law Vivian Malone Jones, who was one of the first students to attend an integrated University of Alabama.

“To compare that kind of courage, that kind of action, and to say that the Black Panther incident — wrong though it might be — somehow is greater in magnitude or is of greater concern to us, historically, I think just flies in the face of history and the facts,” Holder added.

“I just want to again assure the American people that the allegation that this Justice Department somehow, someway does things based on race is simply false. It is simply false,” Holder said. “Anybody who makes that contention is simply not telling the truth, is not familiar with the facts or has a political agenda.”

Late Update: J. Christian Adams, the former Justice Department lawyer who worked on the New Black Panther Party case and is now a frequent Holder critic, has this take on the hearing:

Holder spoke of the civil rights law protecting “my people,” as he put his palms on his chest.  It was a revealing and familiar agitation, the same sort of agitation people encounter inside the Civil Rights Division anytime they want to enforce the law equally.

Late, Late Update: Here’s the video:

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