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U.S. Commission on Civil Rights meets on New Black Panther case

I'm at the USCCR's long-awaited hearing on the infamous 2008 incident in which members of the New Black Panther Party briefly stood outside of a heavily Democratic polling place, brandished nightsticks, and were ushered away by police. Like I said, that was in 2008 -- for 18 months, Republicans have made hay of the incident and asked why the Department of Justice did not press charges against the Panthers.

The hearing is occurring in the UCCR's room near the Smithsonian Museum of American Art -- a five-floor walk-up that takes reporters and attendees past two security guards and into a half-full chamber. Five members of the NBPP are sitting near the front of the room, clad in black clothes and black berets, standing up occasionally to see which commissioner is speaking. It's a spectacle, said Republican commissioner Abigail Thernstrom, that the UCCR should have avoided -- the insignificance of the Panthers and the limited nature of the case were unworthy of their time.

"We could have chosen a much more fruitful topic for our annual report," said Thernstrom. "I don't believe it has served well the party to which I belong."

Her fellow Republican commissioner Ashley Taylor pushed back a little by saying that in prosecuting voter intimidation, "it's enough to show that the conduct would have threatened, intimidated, or coerced a reasonable voter." And the issue was why DOJ had dropped the case.

"When government declines to enforce the law," said Taylor, "it is obligated to defend its position."

Democratic commissioner Michael Yaki vehemently disagreed. "This hearing alone," he said, "compromising the national enforcement report of this commission, is to me about one thing -- it's about partisan payback. That's all it is."

By David Weigel  |  April 23, 2010; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  Fringe , Race  
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