In a National Review Online article, Abigail Thernstrom, the Republican vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, called the manufactured controversy surrounding the New Black Panthers Party case “small potatoes,” and encouraged readers to “forget about the New Black Panther Party case,” commenting that “too much overheated rhetoric filled with insinuations and unsubstantiated charges has been devoted to this case.” Thernstrom, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and former senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, further wrote:
Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, makes a perfectly plausible argument: Different lawyers read this barely litigated statutory provision differently. It happens all the time, especially when administrations change in the middle of litigation.
As Media Matters documented, Thernstrom criticized the commission's investigation into the New Black Panther Party case in April, saying, “I do not think that this inquiry has served the interests of the Commission as being a bipartisan watchdog for important civil rights violations, and I do not believe it has served well the party to which I belong.”
The conservative media -- led by Fox News -- continue to dishonestly hype the accusations and pressure other media outlets to cover the ginned up controversy. Thernstrom provides yet another reason to ignore the noise machine.
From Thernstrom's July 6 National Review article:
Forget about the New Black Panther Party case; it is very small potatoes. Perhaps the Panthers should have been prosecuted under section 11 (b) of the Voting Rights Act for their actions of November 2008, but the legal standards that must be met to prove voter intimidation -- the charge -- are very high.
In the 45 years since the act was passed, there have been a total of three successful prosecutions. The incident involved only three Panthers at a single majority-black precinct in Philadelphia. So far -- after months of hearings, testimony and investigation -- no one has produced actual evidence that any voters were too scared to cast their ballots. Too much overheated rhetoric filled with insinuations and unsubstantiated charges has been devoted to this case.
A number of conservatives have charged that the Philadelphia Black Panther decision demonstrates that attorneys in the Civil Rights Division have racial double standards. How many attorneys in what positions? A pervasive culture that affected the handling of this case? No direct quotations or other evidence substantiate the charge.
Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, makes a perfectly plausible argument: Different lawyers read this barely litigated statutory provision differently. It happens all the time, especially when administrations change in the middle of litigation. Democrats and Republicans seldom agree on how best to enforce civil-rights statutes; this is not the first instance of a war between Left and Right within the Civil Rights Division.