The Washington Post – Thursday, July 15, 2010

A 2008 voter-intimidation case has become a political controversy for the Obama administration as conservative lawyers, politicians and commentators raise concerns that the Department of Justice has failed to protect the civil rights of white voters.

The discussion centers on whether the Justice Department’s civil rights division mishandled a lawsuit against members of the New Black Panther Party, which was filed weeks before the Obama administration took office. The suit was focused on the party and two of its members, who stood out front of a polling place in Philadelphia on Election Day 2008 wearing military gear. They were captured on video and were accused of trying to discourage some people from voting. One carried a nightstick.

Conservatives complained last year when Justice officials narrowed the case, dropping the party and one of the men and focusing only the bearer of the stick. Department officials have said since then that they did not have sufficient evidence to pursue the case against the other defendants. Justice officials who served in the Bush administration have countered that the department had enough evidence to pursue the case more fully and called the decision to narrow it political. The matter caught the attention of some Republican lawmakers, who held up the confirmation of President Obama‘s assistant attorney general for civil rights for months asking for a congressional review of the case.

The conflict intensified last week when former Justice Department lawyer J. Christian Adams, who was hired during the Bush administration and helped develop the case, told the Commission on Civil Rights that he believed the case had been narrowed because some of his colleagues in the civil rights division were interested in protecting only minorities.

“There is no doubt that some people were hostile to this case,” Adams said in a phone interview.

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