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Published: Friday, 7/16/2010

Playing 'gotcha'

To hear complaints about the Obama Justice Department these days, you'd think Attorney General Eric Holder had declared war on the civil rights of white Americans.

Recently, a former lawyer for the Bush Justice Department accused the department's civil-rights division of scaling down a voter intimidation case because the accused were black and the potential victims white.

Two members of the New Black Panther Party stood outside a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day, 2008, in paramilitary garb. One brandished a billy club, looking vaguely menacing but mostly silly. The men remained outside the predominantly black polling center for a short time before police sent them away. One is alleged to have said something insulting about white people. Neither was arrested.

On the basis of a silly non-event, some on the right have invented a conspiracy theory about the Justice Department's alleged disregard for the voting rights of white people.

Just before the Bush administration left office, the civil-rights division filed charges against the two men and their party for voter intimidation. Later, the then-acting head of the civil-rights division dropped the charges against the party and one man. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission, still full of Bush administration appointees, held hearings. The complaining lawyer told his tale of woe.

Civil rights enforcement under Mr. Bush was spotty. Now, critics of the Obama Administration are sensitive to charges of voter intimidation and racial bias. Their outrage is driven more by partisan hackery than any evidence of a sustained effort to deny white people their voting rights.

There's little point in exaggerating the importance of a case when no actual harm is done. Justice is not a game of racial "gotcha."

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