Editor’s Note: The Heritage Foundation drew heavily from The Washington Times and other news reports to compile this cast of characters.
From the New Black Panther Party
- Jerry Jackson—On Election Day 2008, Jackson was one of two New Black Panthers to visit a Philadelphia polling place wearing paramilitary garb. In response, the Department of Justice brought a lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party, Jackson, and two others. An elected member of Philadelphia’s 14th Ward Democratic Committee, Jackson was credentialed to be an official Democratic poll watcher. After the DOJ dropped the case against Jackson, Jackson served as a poll watcher four days later during Philadelphia municipal elections.
- Minister King Samir Shabazz—Along with Jackson, King Samir Shabazz visited a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008. King Samir Shabazz heckled voters with racial epithets—including “white devil” and “cracker”—and also brandished a nightstick. The incident at the Philadelphia poll did not mark the first time King Samir Shabazz has made inflammatory comments. In a 2009 National Geographic documentary, King Samir Shabazz appeared saying, “You want freedom? You’re gonna have to kill some crackers! You’re gonna have to kill some of their babies!” Like Jackson, King Samir Shabazz was one of the four original defendants in the DOJ case against the NBPP. While the DOJ dropped the case against the other three defendants, the department sought an extremely limited injunction against King Samir Shabazz. The NBPP claimed King Samir Shabazz acted on his own, with no direction from the national organization.
- Malik Zulu Shabazz—Shabazz is the Chairman of the NBPP and has commented on Fox News that Jackson and King Samir Shabazz were justified in bringing a weapon to the polls because neo-Nazis were also present at the Philadelphia polling place. Along with Jackson and King Samir Shabazz, Shabazz was one of the four original defendants in the DOJ case. (The fourth was the NBPP itself.) The DOJ eventually dropped its case against Shabazz.
- Bartle Bull—Bull is an attorney and former publisher of the Village Voice. He has been a civil rights activist since the 1960s, working in Mississippi and throughout the South. He was New York chairman of the Robert Kennedy for President campaign. Bull testified at the April 23 Commission hearing. He was a poll watcher at the Philadelphia polling place on election day. He saw the two Black Panthers and testified that it was the worst case of voter intimidation he had ever seen, going back to the 1960s in Mississippi. He also testified that he saw voters approach the polling place, turn around, and walk away because they were intimidated by the two Panthers.
- Chris Hill—Hill testified before the Commission on April 23. He lives near the polling place. He was a registered poll watcher that day and testified that the Panthers were an intimidating presence. He heard them yell racial epithets at poll watchers. He saw voters turn around and walk away from the polling place because they were intimidated. He testified that black poll watchers inside the polling place were frightened. When he attempted to enter the polling place as was his right as a certified poll watcher, the two Panthers “closed ranks” in an attempt to block him, but he walked past them and in the door.
From The Department of Justice
Those who sought to pursue the case:
- Christopher Coates—The chief of the DOJ voting section, Coates led the team of lawyers who pursued the case against the NBPP. As The Washington Times has reported, Coates was a former staff attorney for the ACLU Voting Rights Project and a former winner of the Thurgood Marshall Decade Award from the Georgia Conference of the NAACP. He was hired at the DOJ during the Clinton Administration. Once at the DOJ, Coates won the Civil Rights Division’s Walter Barnett Memorial Award for Excellence and Advocacy. When he was ordered to dismiss the case, Coates expressed surprise. He has said the Civil Rights Division’s focus under Obama is at risk of “enforc[ing] the Voting Rights Act in a racially biased fashion and turn[ing] a blind eye whenever incidents arise that indicate that minority persons have acted improperly in voting matters.” Coates now works in the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Carolina.
- Robert Popper—The deputy chief of the DOJ voting section, Popper was among the team of lawyers who pursued the case against the NBPP.
- J. Christian Adams—A career attorney who, according to The Washington Times, once won a special award for his work on behalf of black voters in Georgetown, S.C., Adams, along with Coates and Popper, was among the team of lawyers who pursued the case against the NBPP. On June 4, Adams resigned from the DOJ and revealed in a letter that the acting DOJ supervisors, in violation of federal law, had ordered him and the other trial lawyers on the NBPP case not to testify in response to subpoenas issued by the United States Commission on Civil Rights. After he resigned, Adams was free to testify before the Civil Rights Commission—which he did July 6.
- Spencer R. Fisher—A career attorney in the Justice Department, Fisher was the fourth member of the team of lawyers who pursued the case against the NBPP.
- Diana K. Flynn—Chief of the DOJ Civil Rights Appellate Section, Flynn, at the unusual request of the acting DOJ supervisors, weighed in on the case. In a written memo, she backed the Coates team.
- Marie K. McElderry—A lawyer in the DOJ Civil Rights Appellate Section, McElderry, along with Flynn, weighed in on the case at the request of the acting DOJ supervisors—and supported the Coates team.
Those responsible for dismissing the case:
- Loretta King—King was appointed by the Obama team to act in a supervisory role at the DOJ Civil Rights Division until the Senate confirmed a permanent division chief. She was the acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights during the key decision-making period of the NBPP case. King had not worked on a voting case since she left the Voting Section in the mid-1990s, but she did issue a decision last year that refused to let the majority-black town of Kinston, N.C., by its own choice, hold nonpartisan municipal elections, according to The Washington Times. She has been sanctioned by federal court judges for bringing unmeritorious cases and for failing to respond to court orders. King sought to undermine the NBPP case with spurious arguments and was one of the two supervisors who ordered the Coates team to dismiss the case.
- Steven H. Rosenbaum—Rosenbaum, along with King, was appointed by the Obama team to act in a supervisory role at the DOJ Civil Rights Division until the Senate confirmed a permanent division chief. During the key decision-making period of the NBPP case, Rosenbaum was the acting deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights. He, too, had not worked on a voting case since he left the Voting Section in the mid-1990s. In 1995, he helped the Justice Department to intervene on behalf of the now-controversial ACORN community-agitating group in a voting-rights case in Illinois, according to The Washington Times. President Obama was one of ACORN’s lead attorneys in that case. Like King, Rosenbaum has been sanctioned by federal courts for misconduct. Rosenbaum gave the Coates team its first indication that they might be ordered to dismiss the NBPP case and, along with King, ordered the Coates team to dismiss the case and prevented them from responding to subpoenas issued by the Civil Rights Commission.
- Thomas J. Perrelli—As Associate Attorney General, Perrelli was the third-ranking member of the DOJ throughout the NBPP case, and approved the decision to dismiss the NBPP defendants after being briefed. As The Washington Times points out, he had a strange habit of consulting White House lawyers in person at exactly the times the key Black Panther decisions were being made, and he approved the decision to dismiss the charges against the NBPP voting intimidators. Like Rosenbaum, he has a past connection with President Obama: He was the managing editor at the Harvard Law Review while Obama was the publication’s president. DOJ admits he was briefed on the contemplated action to dismiss the suit, and documents show memos were sent to him on the matter. Yet, DOJ will not provide any detail on the nature of his involvement, or that of his staff.
- Thomas Perez—An Assistant Attorney General, Perez testified before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties that the NBPP case had been appropriately handled by the DOJ. Perez was less than candid about the facts of the case and even went so far as to insinuate that the Coates team might have violated Federal Rule 11, which prohibits lawyers from bringing frivolous actions. Perez testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on May 14, 2010, and again said the case had been handled appropriately based on the facts and the law. He also is the only official the DOJ has allowed to speak to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, but he was not in the Department when the decision was made, refused to answer certain questions about the decision, and the rest of his testimony has been characterized by Adams, under oath, as “inaccurate.” Based on recent revelations from Adams’s testimony, other portions of his testimony are at best misleading, including his oft-repeated claim that the decision to dismiss the suit was based solely on the facts and law. Whether that misleading testimony was knowingly given or merely based on an ignorance of the true facts is unclear, but the Department’s continued refusal to allow Coates to testify raises questions about why the Department would not want those with actual knowledge to testify.
- Julie Fernandes—Appointed Deputy AAG for the Civil Rights Division by the Obama Administration, Fernandes is the senior political official under Perez responsible for voting rights enforcement. Adams testified under oath that he was told by Voting Section management that Fernandes gave instructions that no more cases would be brought against black defendants for the benefit of white victims. He also testified that, in his presence, Fernandes told Voting Section career staff that the Obama Administration had no interest in enforcing Section 8 of the Motor Voter law because it has nothing to do with increasing voter turnout. Section 8 requires states to remove ineligible voters from their voting rolls.
- Gregory Katsas—Katsas testified under oath that the Associate Attorney General, if not the Attorney General, would be informed of a potential decision to reverse course and mostly dismiss a case that had been filed and was in default. The AAG, in this case Thomas Perrelli, would have the opportunity to object to the decision and overrule it. Katsas also testified that it would be a dereliction of duty for the AAG not to give the White House a heads up that such a decision was being made in a high-profile case, which Katsas said the NBBP case surely was.
- Joseph Rich—The former Chief of the Voting Section in the Justice Department, Rich has been defending the dismissal of the New Black Panther case by the Obama Administration. Rich was reprimanded for unprofessional conduct during the Bush Administration after he deleted a recommendation to file a lawsuit against black defendants in Mississippi for violating the Voting Rights Act and misrepresenting that the lawyer investigating the case shared his position. This lawsuit led to the first ever judgment against black defendants for engaging in intentional and blatant racial discrimination and voter fraud to deny and dilute the ballots of white voters (U.S. v. Brown, 494 F.Supp.2d 440).
- Spencer Overton—A Justice Department political appointee, Overton joined Perrelli at several meetings with White House officials. Overton is the author of “Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression,” and is a noted critic of Republican “ballot security” efforts and other measures such as requiring voters to show identification at the polls.
- Eric Holder—Attorney General Holder was briefed on the decision to dismiss the NBPP case. What he knew and when he knew it, however, is unknown, for the AG refuses to directly answer any questions or letters sent to him by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. It is also unclear what role his staff played in the decision to dismiss the suit, whom they might have talked to from outside interest groups, and whether they also spoke to White House officials about the case and its political implications.
From the White House
- President Barack Obama—President Obama’s campaign website at one point featured a Web page highlighting an endorsement from the NBPP. Obama also has longtime ties with at least two key players in the NBPP case. Like Rosenbaum, Obama argued on behalf of the now-controversial ACORN community-agitating group in a voting-rights case in Illinois, and he worked with Perrelli on the Harvard Law Review.
- Cassandra Butts—A former lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Butts was Deputy White House Counsel during the key decision-making period of the NBPP case and met with Perrelli numerous times in the White House. Her executive assistant, Rhonda Carter, also met with Perrelli.
- Melody Barnes—White House Domestic Policy Adviser Barnes also met with Perrelli in the White House.
- Danielle Gray—As Associate White House Counsel, Gray met with Perrelli in the Old Executive Office Building.
- Susan Davies—Davies, like Gray, was Associate White House Counsel during the key decision-making period of the NBPP case. She met with Perrelli in the White House.
- Gregory Craig—Also a member of White House Counsel, Gregory Craig met with Perrelli in the White House during the key decision-making period of the NBPP case. His executive assistant, Catherine Whitney, also met with Perrelli.
- Kristen Clarke—An attorney for the NAACP, Clarke has admitted that she spoke to Justice Department lawyers about the case and shared the complaint with others.