Newly appointed members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights closed their investigation of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case and suspended publication of hard copies of the report at a meeting last week.
It was the first move on the New Black Panther Party matter by the now more bipartisan commission following President Barack Obama’s appointment of two new commissioners last month. The commission had been stacked with conservatives during the George W. Bush administration after two Republicans (one on the commission and one who would be appointed seven months later) switched their affiliation to independent to allow for two additional Republicans to be appointed, bypassing a rule which allowed for only four members of a party at any given time.
Last week, the commission passed by a vote of six to one a resolution which ordered that all work “toward the physical publication of the New Black Panther Report be suspended, so as to allow time for the inclusion of a rebuttal by Michael Yaki.” Yaki, a Democrat, was a member of the Commission during most of the NBPP investigation and is awaiting reappointment for another term. Yaki be given 30 days after his reappointment to prepare a rebuttal to the initial statements of the other commissioners.
USCCR spokeswoman Lenore Ostrowsky told TPM that a second motion to close the NBPP investigation (with the only addition to the report’s record being Yaki’s rebuttal) passed four to two.
Republican appointee Abigail Thernstrom, along with Democrat appointed commissioners Dina Titus, Marty R. Castro and Roberta Achtenberg, voted to close the investigation. Republican-leaning (but technically independent) members Todd Gaziano and Gail Heriot voted against the motion.
Ostrowsky said about 1,000 copies of the report are typically printed and sent to members of Congress and the White House.
The commission had made a single alleged voter intimidation incident during the 2008 campaign their central focus (and the topic of their largest report of 2010). They heard testimony from a conservative former Justice Department lawyer who was hired by an individual who was later found to have improperly politicized the civil hiring process and another DOJ official who was considered by that same Bush-era appointee as “a true member of the team.”
Conservatives alleged that Obama’s Justice Department was handling the NBPP case differently because it was filed against African-American defendants. The Justice Department has called the investigation into their handling of a civil voter intimidation case filed in the final days of the Bush administration “thin on facts and evidence and thick on rhetoric.” They did obtain an injunction against one member of the New Black Panther Party who was caught on video (filmed by an individual working for the local Republican party) carrying a nightstick near the inner city polling place.
[Ed. note: this story was edited after publication.]