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Republican civil rights commissioner criticizes handling of New Black Panther case

Before I provide some more details on Friday's U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on the New Black Panther Party's actions during Election Day 2008, I want to home in again on the comments of Abigail Thernstrom. A conservative scholar and Republican appointee -- she was put on the commission in 2000 and critiqued the then-Democratic majority's research on racial discrimination during the presidential election in Florida -- Thernstrom was extremely critical of the commission's handling of this case.

"Not only is this partisan, it's going to be impossible to get the real story," she said. "Yes, we can subpoena people, but it's up to DOJ whether to enforce the subpoenas."

Thernstrom also laughed at an exchange between Republican commissioner Todd Gaziano -- a fellow at the Heritage Foundation -- and Republican poll-watchers in Philadelphia who said they were intimidated when a Panther holding nightstick, King Samir, took photos of the group. "This is a man who says he wants to kill white people," said Gaziano.

"I'm really not fearful that members of the New Black Panther Party are about to find us," Thernstrom laughed. "I talked to them. They seemed a little offended that people were so willing to imagine them acting violently."

That said, the content of the hearings became a little more serious after my last blog post. The three Republican poll watchers -- Michael Mauro, Chris Hill, and Bartle Bull -- debunked the NBPP's assertion that it had been responding to some threat by Aryan groups, and challenged the assertion of critical commissioners that this one incident was too small to imply that voter intimidation was a problem. Hill informed commissioners that several poll watchers had been threatened out of doing their duties, including a black poll watcher working for the GOP campaign.

Bull blanched at the suggestion that the NBPP story was too small for the commission, as did Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who's spent a year asking for details on the case from the DOJ, and who voiced his concerns to the commission. "Would anyone want to go and vote with someone standing outside the polling place?" he asked. "No one should live in fear."

Republican commissioner Peter Kirsanow pushed Wolf on the question raised by Thernstrom and the Democratic commissioners -- was the UCCR misusing its power by investigating this?

"No," said Wolf. "If you didn't investigate this, your credibility would be gone."

By David Weigel  |  April 23, 2010; 5:12 PM ET
Categories:  Race  
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