JW Sues DOJ for Documents Regarding Decision to Dismiss of Lawsuit against New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Obama Justice Department to obtain documents related to the agency’s decision to dismiss the claims against several members of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense who were accused of engaging in voter intimidation during the 2008 presidential campaign (U.S. v. New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense).
Judicial Watch filed its original FOIA request on May 29, 2009. The Justice Department acknowledged receiving the request on June 18, 2009, but then referred the request to the Office of Information Policy (OIP) and the Civil Rights Division. On January 15, 2010, the OIP notified Judicial Watch that it would be responding to the request on behalf of the Offices of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, Associate Attorney General, Public Affairs, Legislative Affairs, Legal Policy, and Intergovernmental and Public Liaison.
On January 15, the OIP also indicated that the Office of the Associate Attorney General found 135 pages of records responsive to Judicial Watch’s request, but that all records would be withheld in full. On January 26, the OIP advised Judicial Watch that the Office of Public Affairs and Office of Legal Policy completed their searches and found no responsive documents. On February 10, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division indicated that after an extensive search it had located “numerous responsive records” but determined that “access to the majority of the records” should be denied. On March 26, the OIP indicated that the Office of Legislative Affairs and the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison completed searches and found no documents.
Judicial Watch appealed the determinations of the Office of the Associate Attorney General and the Civil Rights Division. To date, Judicial Watch has received neither a response regarding searches conducted by the Offices of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, nor responses to its two administrative appeals prompting its lawsuit. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent, bipartisan unit of the federal government charged with investigating and reporting on civil rights issues, has also initiated a probe of the Justice Department’s decision to dismiss its lawsuit.
The Justice Department originally filed its lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and several of its members following an incident that took place outside of a Philadelphia polling station on November 4, 2008. A video of the incident showing a member of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense brandishing police-style baton weapon was widely distributed on the Internet. According to multiple witnesses, members of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense attempted to block access to polling stations, harassed voters and hurled racial epithets. Nonetheless, the Justice Department ultimately allegedly overruled the recommendations of its own staff and dismissed the majority of its claims.
“The Obama administration owes the American people an explanation. How can the Justice Department dismiss a clear-cut case of voter intimidation involving the use of a weapon? Are voting rights important at the Justice Department? If there is nothing to hide, then Eric Holder should release this information as the law requires. And this is just one more example of how Obama’s promises of transparency are a big lie,” said Judicial Watch Tom Fitton.