The Justice Department trial attorney behind a controversial lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party has resigned, citing the way the DOJ handled the voter intimidation case and subsequent investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
J. Christian Adams, a lawyer with a history in conservative activism who was hired into a career position under a politicized process during the Bush administration, wrote in a May 14 letter to the chief of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division that he has incurred significant personal expense in connection with the Civil Rights Commission investigation.
Adams was subpoenaed by the commission to testify about the case, but the Justice Department refused to let him appear. Adams wrote that his expenses were incurred in “retaining a number of separate attorneys and firms regarding this subpoena in order to protect my interests and advise me about my personal legal obligation to comply with the subpoena.”
The Justice Department’s handling of the voter intimidation case has generated controversy since Adams filed the lawsuit on behalf of the DOJ in the final days of the Bush presidency. Last week, the conservative-controlled Civil Rights Commission heard testimony about the case from Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez. The commission is focusing its 2010 enforcement report on the New Black Panther Party case.
Last year, the commission issued a subpoena to the Justice Department, seeking documents and witness testimony on the decision to drop most of the case. But the DOJ declined to allow its employees to testify and said its lawyers are not subject to contempt of court for refusing to disclose internal DOJ documents, under a 1951 U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States ex rel. Touhy v. Ragen.
Adams argued that he had a legal obligation to testify before the commission, and one of his lawyers asserted he could be thrown in jail if he didn’t comply.
In the letter, Adams also indicated that his resignation is in part because of the language used by members of the New Black Panther Party about the other lawyers who handled the case.
“As you also know, the defendants in the New Black Panther lawsuit have become increasingly belligerent in their rhetoric toward the attorneys who brought the case,” Adams wrote, citing a statement from the New Black Panther Party that described it as a “phony case” that was brought by “the modern day racist lynch mob.”
“Knowing intimately the criminal character and violent tendencies of the members of New Black Panther Party, it is my profound hope that these assertions are tempered,” Adams wrote.
Adams was hired in 2005 by then-Civil Rights Division political appointee Bradley Schlozman. A joint investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility found that Schlozman violated civil service rules by improperly taking political and ideological affiliations into account when making career attorney hires.
As Main Justice first reported, Adams has a background in conservative advocacy. He volunteered with the National Republican Lawyers Association and worked as a Bush poll watcher in Florida. He also wrote a piece for The American Spectator that likened President Barack Obama’s world view to that of Nazi appeasers and argued on a conservative blogging network that health care reform is a threat to liberty.
In his resignation letter, Adams rebuffed the notion that his decisions were political, writing that he “aggressively sought and litigated voting cases to protect the federal voting rights… without regard for what political or ideological faction objected to the cause of action.” He cited his work defending the voting rights of African-Americans in Georgetown, S.C. and Lake Park, Fla., and Spanish-speaking voters in Florida and Texas.
Reached on Tuesday evening, Adams declined to comment on his resignation and his future plans. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Adams’ resignation.
“[W]hile there are many things I will miss about the Voting Section, such as working with you and some excellent lawyers here, some things I will certainly not miss,” Adams wrote in the letter, addressed to acting Voting Section Chief Chris Herron. Herron replaced former Chief Christopher Coates, who requested to be transferred to South Carolina. “And someone with your dedication to reaching the right answer, as compared with the easy or popular answer, will appreciate this circumstance. I wish you the best of luck.”
Adams’ resignation letter is embedded below. This post has been updated.