At the heart of the New Black Panther Party case is a basic question: were the Justice Department trial lawyers ordered to withdraw the default judgment for proper, legal reasons (i.e., the trial team had erroneously pursued the case) or for improper, political reasons? At the Friday hearing before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Rep. Frank Wolf submitted with his testimony some internal Justice Department documents, including an internal memorandum from the Civil Rights Division’s appellate section, which was asked to weigh in by the Voting Rights Section. In a memo dated May 13, 2009 (just days before the Obama administration ordered the case pulled), the appellate lawyers offered their own opinion of the case. They included this in their summary:
We can make reasonable arguments in favor of default relief against all defendants and probably should, given the unusual procedural situation. The argument may well not succeed at the default stage, and we should expect the district court to schedule further proceedings But it would be curious not to pray for the relief on the default that we would seek following trial. Thus, we generally concur in Voting’s recommendation to go forward, with some suggested modifications in our argument, as set forth below.
Translation: the Voting Sections lawyers should go for it. This recommendation was overridden by the Obama administration. And the question we return to again and again is this: why did the Obama team reject the advice of not only the trial team of career lawyers but also of the experts in the appellate section? What infirmity did only the Obama team spot that somehow had eluded all these experienced voting-rights gurus? Well, we don’t know. The Obama administration so far has refused to permit the trial attorneys to testify to shed further light on what pressure they were subjected to and what they were told was the rationale for the dismissal. So for now, the mystery — and the stonewall — continues.