Republicans on the Senate and House Judiciary Committees are calling for an investigation into allegations that the Justice Department wrongly abandoned a case against the New Black Panther Party and has adopted a policy to ignore voting rights violations against white victims.
Senate Judiciary Republicans sent a letter Friday to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the committee, requesting a hearing and House Judiciary Republicans wrote President Obama on Thursday asking him to direct Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to launch an investigation.
A spokesman for Leahy did not return a message left on his cellphone Saturday. The White House did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The requests come as the bipartisan and independent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights continues its yearlong investigation of the allegations. Earlier this month, the commission, which has a conservative majority, called on the Justice Department to investigate its civil rights division after a former employee, J. Christian Adams, now a conservative blogger, testified that supervisors in the division instructed attorneys to ignore voting rights cases that involved black defendants and white victims.
The controversy began in Philadelphia on Election Day two years ago when two members of the New Black Panther Party were caught on video in front of a polling place dressed in military-style uniforms, and allegedly hurling racial slurs while one brandished a night stick.
The Bush Justice Department prosecuted three members of the group, accusing them in a civil complaint of violating the Voter Rights Act. The Obama administration won a default judgment in federal court in April 2009 when the defendants did not appear in court. But then the administration moved to dismiss the case the following month after getting an injunction against the nightstick-wielding member to stay away from any polling place in Philadelphia until 2012.
The Justice Department has said that the civil rights division determined "the facts and the law did not support pursuing claims" against the two other defendants and denied Adams' accusations of reverse racism.
But Republican lawmakers aren't satisfied.
"If these alarming allegations are true, the Civil Rights Division is actively engaged in widespread politicization and possible corruption," Senate Republican Judiciary members wrote. "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.'"
In their letter to the president, House Republican Judiciary members said the Justice Department's "continued refusal to give any legitimate reason for the dismissal has only increased suspicions that race and politics played a role in the decision."
"Recent allegations from a former Civil Rights Division attorney confirm our concerns that the Justice Department has adopted a policy of race-based non-enforcement of federal voting rights law," they wrote. "If these allegations are true, it means that the Justice Department has become politicized and only an independent entity can effectively investigate this matter."