Remember The Black Panther “Voter Intimidation” Case? Yea, It Really Was Small Potatoes

Just about a year ago, a controversy was making it’s way through the conservative blogosphere that arose out of an incident at a Philadelphia, PA voting place on Election Day 2008 where two men representing something called the “New Black Panther Party”” were standing outside purporting to intimidate voters while a Fox News Channel camera recorded the whole thing. The incident was investigated by the Department of Justice and, before Barack Obama became President, the decision was made not to pursue  criminal charges in the matter. The matter eventually made its way to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights where Abigail Thernstrom, a Republican member of the Commission, called the case “small potatoes” while others on the right attempted to turn it into a huge scandal.

The controversy mostly died out when the Summer of 2010 ended and people began focusing on the election, but Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog notes that there was a final report issued by the DOJ back in March and it turns out that the whole story really was much ado about nothing:

(1) the original NBPP controversy really was small potatoes, as Abby Thernstrom and Jonathan Adler concluded. This was a tiny incident in a single polling place about which there was not proof of a single intimidated voter.

(2) Jonathan thought the decision to narrow the injunction after obtaining the default judgment did not make sense, but the OPR gives plausible reasons for why DOJ leadership did so—reasons about the scope of injunctions and First amendment rights which seem very strong to me as a teacher of Remedies.

(3) Whether we should call DOJ’s subsequent actions a “cover-up” as Jonathan says or not, DOJ certainly did a very poor job explaining its actions.  And it is only from the OPR report that one can get a clear sense as to the bona fide dispute among those at DOJ over how to handle the case.

(4) The decision of how to handle the controversy does provide a window into the shift between the Bush and Obama administrations over how to handle claims of voting rights violations against non-minority voters.  The DOJ has limited resources and needs to prioritize.  Cases like NBPP and the Ike Brown case in Mississippi (as well as NVRA cases requiring cleaning up of voter rolls) were of greater priority to the Bush Administration than to the Obama administration.

(5) Some on the right hoped to use the controversy over NBPP to paint the Obama DOJ as politicized and to make a scandal out of a legitimate difference in opinion over DOJ prosecutorial priorities and prosecutorial discretion.  I was amazed to learn that FOX News had 95 segments on the NBPP issue in little over a two week period.  J. Christian Adams, Big Government, Hans von Spakovsky, and Pajamas Media-along with the Republican-leaning commissioners on the Civil Rights Commission (aside from Thernstrom)—sought to make as much political hay out of the incident as they could.

But in the end, there’s no there there.

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

H/T: Volokh Conspiracy

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Chad S says:

    Only 95 segments? That sounds low.

  2. Janis Gore says:

    Was I wrong before, or does Pennsylvania election law allow electioneering within 10 feet of the door?

    No, I didn’t much care for King Minister Shamik Shabazz, aka Maurice Heath, standing around by the door.

    Take it up the street, Maurice.

  3. Janis Gore says:

    Let’s correct: Shamir Shabazz

  4. bains says:

    Relying upon a leftist blog that uses leftist sources to confirm your left leaning biases?

    Yeah, in the grand scheme of things the number of voters at that one polling place that may have been intimidated is miniscule compared to the total votes cast in Philly and Penn. However, what those two NBP members were doing is clearly proscribed. But it is good that you reveal that you are willing to accept the subjugation of law to politics, or rather to the right political party. It will be remembered the next time you start wailing when some clear, but “small potato” violation is ignored by legal arm of any GOP administration.

  5. Janis Gore says:

    But to activate a law suit you need a plaintiff with standing. None showed.

  6. WR says:

    @bains: “It will be remembered.” Who are you — Mussolini?

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Relying upon a leftist blog that uses leftist sources to confirm your left leaning biases?

    It’s always quite amusing (not to mention delusional) whenever anyone accuses Doug, of all people, of being a leftist in anyway…there are many others who would beg to differ with this faulty accusation…

  8. bains says:

    @An Interested Party: It’s always quite amusing (not to mention delusional) whenever anyone accuses Doug, of all people, of being a leftist in anyway

    You are right, Doug is not a leftist; he is left leaning.

    And what many of us right leaning folks find disconcerting is the seemingly overwhelming tendency of the comment section to draw OTB into a John Cole like loss of gyroscope. There is a spectrum, and there is a center of that spectrum. Committed partisans way off on the left, or right tend to view those closer to the center, irrespective of which side of the center they may reside, as agents of the other side. James is trending left from right of center. Doug is left of center. Most other writers here are where Doug lies, or slightly to left (excepting Dodd). If you ignore the real center of the spectrum, you are viewing reality through a intentionally distorted prism. And that is just what Balloon Juice has become.

  9. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    What’s funny about this is that lily-white liberal flakes from the suburbs couldn’t be able even to grasp the irony of black-on-white voter intimidation in Philly, PA, which not coincidentally happens to be a cesspool of left-wing failure and despair.

    On the other hand, of course, if a white guy in a polling place in El Paso, Texas even looked the wrong way at a racial minority the Internet left instantly and reflexively would go into high dudgeon mode. Then the irony would be lost on them, yet again.

  10. bains says:

    @WR: Who are you — Mussolini?

    Wow, we’ve now found a corollary to Goodwin’s Law.

  11. george says:

    I don’t know, anyone intimidated by those two gentlemen probably shouldn’t be voting anyway … I thought the conservative ideal was toughness and self-reliance, rather than victim hood (in this case, can’t vote because two comically dressed guys are hovering around the booth).

    Seriously, I doubt anyone was intimidated by them.

    Of course, that’s assuming the picture is of the gentlemen in question, and not just some stock photo or clip from a B-movie.

  12. Babyboomer1960 says:

    When a hypothetical flash mob of minority teens descends upon a solitary polling precinct somewhere in a white neighborhood in a major US city, it, too, will be treated as ‘small potatoes’ by the Govt-sponsored Media Complex, if the Obama Regime, with Eric “Americans are Racial Cowards” Holder continues as the ersatz Attorney General at the helm of the US Civil Rights Commission. Remember Matthew Shepherd ? I’m sure that he understands how it feels to be ‘small potatoes’ in the bigger scheme of things.

    It was my understand that the Bush Administration had actually pursued the case and had a summary judgement already made in the case. The, when Obama and his racist minions took over, they dropped the case just as it was about to enter the sentencing phase. I may be wrong, but that’s how I remember it…

    When and if someone gets in your face at a polling precinct, or at a convenience store, or on the bus, or at your local bistro, I’m sure that you’ll be certain to consider that in the big picture, your anecdotal experience is really nothing more than ‘small potatoes’ either… Don’t bother calling the police. Why make a fuss? It’s just “small potatoes…”

    Your cavalier dismissal of the NBPP Voter Intimidation effort in Philly is disingenuous, disgusting, and intellectually vapid. If even one potential voter decided that it might be too dangerous to proceed because of the obvious intent of the individuals captured on both video AND audio (did you ever actually HEAR them or read the transcript by the way?), then the election process was sullied and dishonored at that precinct. Success in that singular venture will inexorably lead to further attempts in the future.

    To dismiss this event as an innocuous blip is to play into the hands of Eric Holder, Obama, and the “Social Justice” acolytes. Shame on you, Doug…

  13. Babyboomer1960 says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II: Well said, sir!

  14. Babyboomer1960 says:

    @Janis Gore: The audio and videotape offered the “film noire” witness to what occurred. You may have noticed that guy with the cell phone who went inside and said he would be reporting them? Hmmm? As for “standing:” the election workers have standing in this matter, and could/should have presented themselves as witnesses. If you’d like to really pursue how the ejudication went down, here’s the link…

  15. Babyboomer1960 says:

    @bains: Can’t agree with you more Bains! My comments to Doug reinforce your premise…

  16. Davebo says:

    Quick Answer?

    Some folks are afraid of the elastic in their underwear..

    Jeez! We’re patriots! Real Americans! But a black man appears at the polling place? Get the fuck out of here now!!!

    The same pansies that allowed things to go to shit after 9/11 now want us to freak out over their recent fantasies. It’s high time we ignored the crap in their pants and moved on.

  17. WR says:

    @Babyboomer1960: Yes, the Bush JD had reached a decision — that the “case” wasn’t worth pursuing. Because as bad as they were, even they didn’t share your hysterical race panic.

  18. anjin-san says:

    boomer…

    Why don’t you just stay home and pull the covers over your head? Then the scary black people can’t hurt you.

  19. Jay Tea says:

    When it comes to voter intimidation this blatant, there is no such thing as “small potatoes.” Period.

    As BabyBoomer noted, the Matthew Shepherd case was one guy in a backwater part of a backwater state. There was nothing exceptional about it that merited federal attention — but it did.

    Because of what it represented — a type of attitude that needed to be confronted.

    Oh, skip the crap — an attitude that needed to be smacked down, and smacked down hard.

    Likewise, there’s an attitude behind the NBPP’s attempt at voter intimidation needs to be smacked down just as hard.

    But that’s right. They’re black. Blacks, by definition, can’t be racist. So there’s no racial component here, and hanging out in front of a voting place while armed and asserting just who better win the election is no big deal.

    Man, I hope the KKK isn’t paying attention. But you know they are…

    J.

  20. mantis says:

    When it comes to imagined voter intimidation this blatant black, there is no such thing as “small potatoes.” Period.

    FTFY

    So there’s no racial component here, and hanging out in front of a voting place while armed and asserting just who better win the election is no big deal.

    So you think there is a racial component? What is it? These were black guys at a polling place in an almost entirely black precinct. You think they were intimidating non-blacks, making this a racial thing? Who was intimidated? If two white dudes were hanging around a polling place in a white suburb looking mean and tough, would you describe the incident as having a “racial component?”

    I understand you don’t really see a lot of black people, living in White Hampshire, but some places are positively full of them.

    The only reason you don’t think this is small potatoes is because you, like Adams and so many others, think this is a useful way to scare white people. That’s the long and the short of it.

  21. Jay Tea says:

    @mantis: I’d have the same problem with the Klan at my polling place. More, ‘cuz they claim to represent me and my interests, and I take that personally.

    And it would be national news. And you know it would, if you were honest for a moment. Even in “white” New Hampshire. (1.1% black, according to latest census.)

    And don’t you get tired of substituting statistics for facts? New Hampshire MUST be anti-Semitic, because we don’t have very many Jews. Now we MUST be racist, because we don’t have many blacks.

    J.

  22. Janis Gore says:

    But if no witnesses came forward to testify to voter intimidation, where should the case have gone, Jay?

  23. Jay Tea says:

    So, Janis, despite the video, it was a “victimless crime?”

    I recall a lot of similar cases where a lack of victim testimony didn’t prevent prosecution. Cases against gangs and the Mafia, for example. Or perhaps you’re unfamiliar with the term “witness intimidation?”

    J.

  24. Babyboomer1960 says:

    @Jay Tea: Funny how when our comments point out the obvious projection that the leftist commenters leave, they are hellbent on telling us that WE are the racists and afraid of the boogey man… I appreciate it that you, at least, got the point I was trying to make with Matthew Shepherd. You understood it precisely, and rephrased it succinctly. Still, the deniers and apologists for the NBPP are insistent that we are a bunch of “pansies” for feeling that this case had merit for prosecution and was covered up by Eric “Americans are Racial Cowards” Holder, who is supposed to be in charge of EQUAL treatment under the law. I guess the “content of the character vs. color of the skin” concept has been missed by most of the posters on this topic. I could go on to list a litany of bogus charges of racial animus and/or voter intimidation for those who just can’t find it in their hearts to feel that the display put on by the NBPP in Philly rose to anything other than, apparently, harmless playground antics during the elections of 2008. i can hardly wait to see their reactions in 2012 when things go to absolute anarchy. i’m keeping a log of the comments here and will be back to point out how wrong Doug and his coherts were in dismissing this as “small potatoes…”

  25. mantis says:

    I’d have the same problem with the Klan at my polling place. More, ‘cuz they claim to represent me and my interests, and I take that personally.

    And it would be national news. And you know it would, if you were honest for a moment.

    Never been to the south, have you Jay?

    And don’t you get tired of substituting statistics for facts? New Hampshire MUST be anti-Semitic, because we don’t have very many Jews. Now we MUST be racist, because we don’t have many blacks.

    Don’t you get tired of making shit up and claiming I said it? I never said New Hampshireites are anti-semitic or racist. I have, however, implied that you, who seems to have spent very little time outside that state, are completely unaware of what places not as homogenous as your state are like. You see a picture of two black dudes outside a polling place, and assume that they are there to scare white people. That’s the only possible reason for you to inject a “racial component” into this. Those were black dudes in a black neighborhood, but it seems you just cannot fathom such a thing existing. There wasn’t a racial component in this, just an asshole component, but you know a Willie Horton ad when you see one, and scaring white people about the black menace has been the right’s strategy for decades.

  26. Jay Tea says:

    @mantis:

    Don’t you get tired of making shit up and claiming I said it?

    Quit stealing my lines.

    I don’t give a rat’s ass about the race of the thugs, the voters, or the neighborhood. I see armed thugs in paramilitary outfits outside a polling place, making certain all who pass just who better win the election. To me, the races involved are utterly irrelevant — while you seem to think there ought to be different laws for different races, I don’t. I think there ought to be one law for all Americans, and this kind of voter intimidation is NEVER acceptable in my world.

    And if you didn’t mean to imply my home state as bigoted, why do you keep bringing up our demographics? Is there some other point to it?

    J.

  27. mantis says:

    I don’t give a rat’s ass about the race of the thugs, the voters, or the neighborhood.

    Really? Let’s quote you from upthread then:

    But that’s right. They’re black. Blacks, by definition, can’t be racist. So there’s no racial component here, and hanging out in front of a voting place while armed and asserting just who better win the election is no big deal.

    I guess that must have been someone else posting under your name, because race isn’t an issue for you.

    while you seem to think there ought to be different laws for different races, I don’t.

    I do? Where did I come anywhere close to saying that?

    I think there ought to be one law for all Americans, and this kind of voter intimidation is NEVER acceptable in my world.

    I find their behavior unacceptable as well. However, unlike you, I don’t try to pretend that two assholes in Philly are evidence of some kind of a wave of voter intimidation, and unlike you, I certainly don’t try to pretend this is evidence of some sort of race war.

    And if you didn’t mean to imply my home state as bigoted, why do you keep bringing up our demographics? Is there some other point to it?

    Can you not read? I explained it above. You live in such a homogenous state that you have likely had very little interaction with the groups of people you purport to understand. You clearly don’t understand them, or the places where such people are numerous enough to actually influence the culture and politics.

  28. mantis says:

    On a not really related but sort of kinda note, I took a trip to your swamp to see if you’ve mentioned anything about the verdict in the case of the non-beatdown of Kenneth “Fainting Goat” Gladney. A quick search shows you’ve brought that up many times over the past couple of years as evidence of liberal “thuggery,” along with a case where two Republicans were mugged by unknown assailants (must be libruls!) and former Rep. Bob Etheridge, who snapped at kids hired by Republicans to harass him on video until he snapped (and shame on him for doing so).

    What, not interested in Gladney’s story anymore? Hmm. Strange, that.

    Oh by the way, I love how your outcry in the post I link above about the violence of liberals goes along with your own wholehearted endorsement of assault on liberals. Lauren Valle’s assailant, who was on Rand Paul’s payroll when he committed the crime, pleaded out, by the way. I notice you never bothered to note that detail either. Hey, I think I notice a pattern!

  29. Jay Tea says:

    Oh, is this still going? Sorry, only came back as research for a posting of my own.

    Yup, the thugs who beat Mr. Gladney were acquitted. I guess those union thugs were as innocent as Casey Anthony and O. J. Simpson. ‘Cuz juries NEVER make mistakes.

    Thanks for the reminder about the New Orleans beatdown. Guess we have the vaunted NO Police Dept. to thank for never identifying those suspects.

    And I’ll have to remember your “they were asking for it” defense for Etheridge. As well as MoveOn.Org’s hired kamikaze.

    Nah. Not worth the neurons.

    J.

  30. mantis says:

    And I’ll have to remember your “they were asking for it” defense for Etheridge.

    So when I said “shame on him,” that was defending him? Strange, stupid world you live in.