Lawyer bashes Obama officials over Philadelphia voter-intimidation case
A former Justice Department attorney originally from Westmoreland County slammed the Obama administration Thursday, claiming top officials lied to the public about a decision to drop a voter intimidation case against two members of the New Black Panthers Party.
J. Christian Adams, who grew up in Hempfield, said he resigned last month because of the Justice Department's decision to not pursue its case against the two men who allegedly attempted to dissuade voters from casting ballots by pummeling them with racial slurs and threatening them with a nightstick.
In an interview yesterday, Adams, 42, said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez lied under oath in May before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which is investigating the department's decision to drop the case.
Perez said the facts didn't support prosecution, but Adams said the case was a "slam-dunk."
The Panthers -- King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson -- faced allegations of intimidating voters in Philadelphia on the day that Barack Obama was elected president. Adams said they carried weapons, wore black berets and jackboots and taunted voters as they entered the polling place. Witnesses said voters were hit with a barrage of insults such as "white devil" and "you're about to be ruled by the black man, cracker," according to The Associated Press.
Shortly before President George W. Bush left office, the Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit in the case, against the two men and the group's leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, but the defendants never responded, which had the same effect as an admission of culpability.
Not long after Obama took office, it was decided that Justice officials would not move forward with the civil lawsuit or criminal charges.
Justice Department spokesman Tracy Schmaler said the law is enforced equally for everyone and the charges against the Panthers were dropped because they were not backed up by law or fact.
"We continue to work with voters, communities and local law enforcement to ensure that every American can vote free from intimidation, coercion or threats," Schamler said.
Adams said the issue goes well beyond the incident in Philadelphia.
A longtime voter rights advocate, he said the case highlights the need to protect all Americans' rights to cast their votes without fear.
His comments were made during the most recent debate in a longstanding dispute about how the Justice Department has handled civil rights cases.
"I love the law and I love the Constitution," Adams said. "It's very important that voter intimidation not be tolerated. I think a lot of folks reached the decision that the dismissal was bad. My resignation didn't come as much of a surprise."
Adams is now a contributor to the conservative Internet website, Pajamasmedia.com, and still practices law in Virginia. He attended Hempfield Area High School, West Virginia University and the University of South Carolina law school before becoming counsel to the South Carolina Secretary of State. He joined the Justice Department five years ago and has prosecuted cases involving violations of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Adams gained attention in 2007 for using the federal Voting Rights Act to prosecute a black politician in Mississippi for voter fraud. It was the first time in that state that the act was used against a black politician.
Adams said Ike Brown tried to dissuade voters from voting by listing their names in a newspaper and then declaring he would challenge them if they tried to vote.