Politics & Policy

No, Dubya Did Not Whitewash the New Black Panther Party

The newest liberal meme -- that Bush's DOJ, not Obama's, dropped charges against the NBPP -- doesn't square with the timeline.

MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann and other left-wing commentators have been busy high-fiving each other over “proof” that none other than George W. Bush was to blame for the Justice Department’s whitewash of the New Black Panther Party’s intimidation of voters on Election Day, 2008. (American leftists cannot resist the temptation to blame Bush for everything, up to and perhaps including their own dental cavities.) But the facts keep the focus squarely on the Obama administration for letting the NBPP intimidate voters with impunity.

As Olbermann said on July 12’s Countdown, “So, here’s the real story Fox and other malefactors of mankind will not tell you, based not on rumors nor innuendo, but court and congressional records. New Black Panthers, intimidating voters, killing cracker babies, Bush didn’t prosecute.”

Olbermann, recently fired Washington Post analyst Dave Weigel, and The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer have all crowed that Bush’s Justice Department dropped a criminal case against the NBPP. In fact, there never was a criminal case to drop. The NBPP faced a civil lawsuit prepared by Justice’s Voting Rights unit. This is exactly what career prosecutors recommended in the first place.

With respect to all but one defendant, Justice abandoned its civil case under Obama, not Bush — no matter what Olbermann and his comrades would like to believe. 

This slide, presented by David Blackwood, general counsel of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), at its July 6 meeting, lays out some of the relevant details.

Or consider the following, more detailed timeline, which shows that Obama, not Bush, let the NBPP and two of its leaders run free, leaving a third NBPP leader to endure something resembling less of a wrist slap and more of a wrist massage:

November 4, 2008: The New Black Panther Party’s Jerry Jackson and Minister King Samir Shabazz intimidate voters and poll watchers at a Philadelphia precinct.

December 22, 2008: Career Justice Department attorneys Christopher Coats (chief of the Voting Section), Robert Popper (deputy chief), and trial attorney J. Christian Adams submit a memorandum to then–acting assistant attorney general Grace Chung Becker. They call for civil litigation against the NBPP and three of its members for violating the Voting Rights Act: “We propose seeking a remedy that prohibits the members of the NBPP from deploying athwart the entry of polling places in future elections.… We recommend that you consider simply authorizing the commencement of a lawsuit.” This document makes no mention of criminal charges.

January 7, 2009: In the waning days of the Bush administration, the Justice Department files a civil lawsuit in Philadelphia against the NBPP as a party and against three of its members: party chief Malik Zulu Shabazz, Jerry Jackson, and Minister King Samir Shabazz.


January 20, 2009: Pres. George W. Bush leaves office and Barack Obama is inaugurated as president of the United States. Over the next few months, the NBPP ignores the Justice Department’s lawsuit. It neither shows up in court nor otherwise responds to this federal case.

April 17, 2009: The U.S. District Court in Philadelphia rules the NBPP defendants in default and orders the Justice Department to present a motion for default judgment by May 1, 2009.

May 1, 2009: The DOJ asks for and receives an extension on this deadline. 

Between May 1 and May 15, 2009: A raucous debate erupts between career prosecutors, who want to proceed with the default judgment and punish the NBPP, and Obama’s political appointees, who prefer to drop the case.

May 15, 2009: According to former federal prosecutor J. Christian Adams’s July 6, 2010, testimony before the USCCR, Obama appointees order him and other career prosecutors to tell the federal court that Justice intends to dismiss charges against three of this case’s four defendants: Jerry Jackson, Malik Zulu Shabazz, and the NBPP itself.

May 18, 2009: In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Stewart Dalzell recognizes that “the Government has voluntarily dismissed all of the other defendants in this case pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(i).” Furthermore, he agrees to the Obama Justice Department’s suggested penalty against the only party actually sanctioned in this case.

“The defendant Minister King Samir Shabazz is enjoined from displaying a weapon within 100 feet of any open polling location on any election day in the City of Philadelphia,” Judge Dalzell rules. “This Court shall maintain jurisdiction over this matter until November 15, 2012 to enforce this Order as necessary.”

Judge Dalzell explains that his ruling “only prohibits the defendant from displaying a specific type of object at a focused area.” Thus, Minister King Samir Shabazz is not legally restricted from shaking his baton at voters 105 feet from the polls. He is not prevented from doing whatever he wants at the polls in Pittsburgh, Pensacola, or Palm Springs. And after November 16, 2012, he can do whatever on earth he wants at the polls, wherever he wishes.

That “punishment” aside, the Obama administration let the New Black Panther Party get away with voter intimidation scot free.

Those are the facts. As Ronald Wilson Reagan once said: “Facts are stubborn things.”

– New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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