Justice Department IG to investigate voting rights section (UPDATED)

Glenn Fine, Inspector General of the Justice Department, is planning to investigate “the enforcement of civil rights laws by the Voting Section of the Department’s Civil Rights Division,” according to a letter he sent today to Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Frank Wolf, R-Va., which was obtained by The Washington Examiner.

The Voting Section has come under fire for its inaction in the investigation against the New Black Panther Party (NBPP), members of which were caught on film standing outside of a polling place wearing paramilitary uniforms and holding a weapon.

From the letter:

This review will examine, among other issues, the types of cases brought by the Voting Section and any changes in these types of cases over time; any changes in Voting Section enforcement policies or procedures over time; whether the Voting Section has enforced the civil rights laws in a non-discriminatory manner; and whether any Voting Section employees have been harassed for participating in the investigation or prosecution of particular matters.

The Office of Inspector General was unable to investigate the section previously because the Justice Department’s handling of the NBPP falls under the jurisdiction of the Office of Professional Responsibility. Now that the OPR’s investigation is coming to a close and being drafted into a report, according to Fine, the OIG can look into the “broader issues that go beyond the Department’s handling of the New Black Panther Party litigation.”

An investigation would finally shed light on whether the Voting Rights Section has systematically ignored cases in which reverse discrimination could be a factor, as many conservative critics have alleged.

Fine also notes that though he is legally unable to investigate specific litigation, he believes the law ought to be changed:

I certainly understand the position you have both expressed in previous correspondence that the OIG is better able to review the Department’s handling of the New Black Panther Party litigation. As you know, I have stated publicly on many occasions that I believe that the provision of the Inspector General Act that removes from the OIG’s jurisdiction investigation of Department attorneys’ handling of litigation should be changed. But unless and until the law is changed, I have an obligation to follow it.

We’ll provide updates as they come.

UPDATE: I contacted Wolf for comment and he sees the letter as a big positive. “I just needed to have an objective group look at it, and we’ve been stonewalled up until this point. The Inspector General [Glenn Fine] has a reputation for being dogged in pursuing this kind of thing.” The letter was especially heartening because it pointed to investigating a broader set of issues and Wolf’s concerns about the Voting Rights Section “go way back.”

He noted that of the Virginia delegation, he is the only one to have voted for the Voting Rights Act, and he was then ripped by the Richmond Times Dispatch for it. “If there are three guys in Mississippi engaging in voter intimidation, it needs to be dealt with. And if it’s two guys in Philadelphia, as in the case of the New Black Panther Party, they should be dealt with too.”

UPDATE 2: Just noticed Michelle Malkin had it first. You can find the letter there.

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