Remember those days of yore, namely the presidential campaign of 2008, when Democrats regularly accused the Bush administration of politicizing the Justice Department?
You could scarcely make your way down the aisle of the U.S. Senate without encountering a Democrat who was outraged, indignant and generally all het up over how the administration of justice had been corrupted. The righteous cries of Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, Russ Feingold, Patrick Leahy and all the other usual suspects rent the air. All demanded that the attorney general -- it was the hapless Alberto Gonzales at the time -- adhere to the "rule of law and the Constitution," to quote Senator Schumer.
The new attorney general, Eric Holder, repeated the theme: "The attempts to politicize the (Justice) Department will not be tolerated should I become attorney general of the United States. It will be my intention to return (the Civil Rights0 division and the Department of Justice as a whole to its great traditions and the great traditions that it had under Democratic and Republican attorneys general and presidents. ... I will work to restore the credibility of a department badly shaken by allegations of improper political interference...."
But somehow you knew the way this would turn out, didn't you, Gentle and Savvy Reader? For promises, especially those made on the campaign trail or during confirmation hearings, tend to be like piecrusts: made to be broken. What's remarkable about this one is the speed with Obama and Holder, P.A., have broken it. Indeed, shredded it.
The outstanding example of this cynical manipulation of justice is how a case against the New Black Panthers, which the Department of Justice described as a "black super-racist organization," has been quickly and quietly shelved with minimal attention to the law and the Constitution.
The evidence is right there on the videos recorded Election Day, 2008, when uniformed members of the Black Panthers showed up at a Philadelphia polling station, one of them wielding a billy club. They shouted insults and made threats: "Cracker, you about to be ruled by a black man," one of the Panthers informed a voter. Two Republican poll watchers, a black couple, were called traitors to their race -- an accusation that will be familiar to any white Southerner who stood up for simple decency back in the bad old days.
Thank goodness for modern technology, which can make any citizen with an iPhone and its camera a crusading reporter. When all this made the Internet, not even the Obama administration's Justice Department could ignore what had happened on Philadelphia's streets. Particularly after the department's own investigation revealed that the New Black Panthers had called for "300 members to be deployed" at various polling places across the country.
So early this year, the Department of Justice proceeded to file a complaint against the Black Panthers, and specifically against the stormtroopers who were captured on video. So far, so fair.
A lawyer and survivor of many a legal battle for civil rights, Bartle Bull, filed an affidavit in support of the Justice Department's complaint. He characterized the incident in Philadelphia as "the most blatant form of intimidation I have encountered in my life in political campaigns in many states, even going back to the work I did in Mississippi in the 1960s."
But the Black Panthers didn't even bother to respond to the charges -- as if they were above the law. And maybe they are. Because after a court had ordered a default judgment against them, including one of their national leaders, the Justice Department caved. It dropped all charges against the Panthers except one, and that one was settled with a light tap on the wrist. The department got an injunction forbidding a member of the Panthers, identified as one Samir Shabazz, from brandishing a weapon at a polling place through November 15, 2012. How's that for a tough defense of Americans' right to vote without risking intimidation?
There doesn't seem to be any explanation for this perversion of justice except the Panthers' political pull with this new administration. This case is no longer about the Black Panthers so much as it is about a newly politicized Justice Department. At some point the career lawyers in the Justice Department's civil rights division changed their minds about pressing charges -- or had their minds changed for them. By whom? Why? Those questions need answering. Under oath.
The same voices that once complained about the politicization of the Justice Department under a previous administration have fallen noticeably silent. For once Chuck Schumer, the Senate's senior nudnik, has nothing to say. And the only excuse the Department of Justice offers for its cave-in is that it didn't want to interfere with the Black Panthers' freedom of speech.
That "explanation" is scarcely good law, but it deserves first prize for sheer chutzpah -- even in a city as full of it as Washington, D.C. Shouting racial imprecations at voters, wielding nightsticks, dispatching bully boys in military-looking uniforms to polling places ... all that is now exercising freedom of speech? In America? It sounds more like the kind of electioneering practiced by Iran's supreme leader and holy fraud.
The leading lights of the Democratic Party in and out of Congress may have turned a blind eye to this outrage, but the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hasn't. In a letter to the attorney general, it has demanded an explanation for this kind "justice" from the Justice Department:
"We believe the Department's defense of its actions thus far undermines respect for rule of law and raises other serious questions about the department's law enforcement decisions."
It sounds as if the commission is getting some subpoenas ready for high Justice Department officials, and it should be. The commission is obliged under law to issue an annual report on some aspect of law enforcement, and at least one of the commissioners -- Todd Gaziano -- has suggested that the Justice Department's kid-glove handling of the Black Panthers be the focus of its 2010 report.
Nothing may actually be done to protect Philadelphia's voters under this administration, but at least there ought to be a full investigation and comprehensive report by somebody official, even if it has to be somebody outside Congress. The record needs to show just how cynical this president and his attorney general can be when it comes to their promises about upholding the rule of law. Not to mention every American voter's right to cast a secret ballot without being harassed.
Why hasn't there been a greater sense outrage, betrayal or just disgust at the administration's handling of this case? My theory: Because none of this comes as a surprise. What else could be expected when The People in their wisdom elect a president of the United States who's a product of Chicago's machine politics?
H. L. Mencken said it: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."