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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Christian Adams, who served in the Voting Section of the U.S. Department of Justice for 5 years. He was previously in private practice and also General Counsel to the South Carolina Secretary of State. He has litigated election cases across the United States on a variety of issues, including voter intimidation and redistricting under the Voting Rights Act. He is a member of both the SC and VA bar.
FP: Christian Adams, welcome to Frontpage Interview. It is a pleasure and privilege to have you here with us.
I would like to talk to you today about your own personal experience in witnessing how Attorney General Eric Holder dropped a New Black Panther voter intimidation case for racial reasons.
But I would first like to start by asking you about the New Black Panthers in general. Describe them to us. How do they contrast with the Black Panthers of Huey Newton?
Adams: The New Black Panthers are a completely different, and more radical, organization. They are a militant black separatist organization. They are vehemently anti-Semitic. While the old black panther party had relations with like minded members of the white community, the New Black Panthers want total racial separatism. The old black panthers had an ostensible social welfare operation. The New Black Panthers have attempted to engage in some aspects of social welfare but these efforts have only commenced after a great deal of bad publicity in the last few months.
At their core, the New Black Panthers exist to advance a limited, militant and racial agenda. They have harassed Korean grocers, they have made false allegations against Duke Lacrosse players, and wherever they go, they inject fiery racial rhetoric into their demonstrations. They have brandished weapons on multiple occasions at these events. And as hard at it is to believe, the New Black Panthers are so radical and militant, that the old black panthers of Huey Newton want nothing to do with them. There was actually a trademark fight between the two over the use of the term “black panthers.”
FP: Tell us about the voting intimidation that the New Panthers have engaged in. What are the federal voting intimidation statutes and what has been done about the intimidation?
Adams: Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits intimidation, coercion and threats to voters or those aiding voters, such as poll watchers. It also prohibits any attempt to do the same. The Justice Department sued the New Black Panther Party, the national Chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz, Jerry Jackson and King Samir Shabazz for violations of 11(b). Jackson and King Samir Shabazz were posted outside the polling place on election day in 2008.
FP: What were Jackson and Shabazz doing while they were posted outside the polling place on that day?
Adams: They were yelling racial slurs at whites – “you are about to be ruled by the black man Cracker!” and “White Devils” – and brandishing a weapon. They attempted to block an individual from entering the polls and were menacing to others.
FP: What are leftist views of voter intimidation (“suppression”) vs. historical sorts of intimidation?
Adams: Voter “suppression” theories are the next generation of voter intimidation prohibitions. Voter suppression theories have less support in the law than voter intimidation protections. Simply, they are more tenuous arguments and possibly bump up against the First Amendment. In fact, there is really no civil federal law prohibiting “voter suppression.” After all, every candidate wants to “suppress” the turnout of their opponent’s supporters.
When Barack Obama was a Senator, he introduced a bill that would make illegal any speech that would have the intent or effect of causing voters to be misled. The Constitutional problems with this sort of regime are obvious. Nevertheless, enactment of a “voter suppression” law is a priority of many academics and purported civil rights activists. Voter intimidation laws, in contrast, ban the sort of mischief that has plagued democratic elections for hundreds of years. Even in the 1700’s in Philadelphia, riots broke out between sailors and Quakers at the single polling place in downtown. In the reconstruction South, armed white militias clashed with armed black militias around election time. Indeed, Louisiana essentially had a number of mini-civil wars in the reconstruction period – with the white militias eventually winning and disarming the black militias through some of the first gun control laws in the nation.
The history of voter intimidation in the Jim Crow south was famous, and even affected the attempt to register to vote. One thing that separates America from thug regimes around the world is how we treasure access to the polling place. The German elections in 1933 were plagued by poll watchers with truncheons. Around the world, voters still fear casting a ballot because of the threat of violence. Protecting the sanctity of the polling place should be one of the top priorities of a free nation.
FP: In our democracy, one would think that there would be equal enforcement of civil rights laws (i.e. against all races of perpetrators) and on behalf of all races of victims. But that’s not happening is it?
Adams: No, it’s not happening. The Black Panther case was dismissed and the dismissal was motivated, I believe, by a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law. Others still within the department share my assessment. The department abetted wrongdoers and abandoned law-abiding citizens victimized by the New Black Panthers. America has been characterized and blessed with great leaders who understood how fragile this grand Constitutional experiment is. The rule of law is not a mere abstraction. Equal Protection isn’t just a noble aspiration. It has real impacts on our lives. It’s what ensures the farmer plants his fields, knowing a system exists to get the crop to market. Confidence in law funds and builds homes. Equal protection before law means we enjoy civil peace, enough peace to build great universities and great institutions.
Examples surround us. Belief in equality before law is deeply embedded in our cultural and legal history. Examples to the contrary are anathema to Americans. That’s the good news – that Americans instinctively rebel against examples of inequality in law. The bad news is that the constitutional system can only absorb so many blows. Lawlessness undermines the structures that support civil society, that support this grand Constitutional experiment. Most of your readers understand this. The challenge is to ensure that the vast majority of Americans continue to understand it.
FP: What has the DOJ done? Has anything changed since 2009?
Adams: After January 2009, the Attorney General said that the civil rights division was being reopened. This means a great deal, including the end to a race-neutral enforcement of the civil rights laws.
FP: How were you personally involved in the New Black Panther Case? Why did you quite your job?
Adams: I was one of the 5 attorneys who commenced the case. Because of the corrupt nature of the dismissal of the case, statements falsely characterizing the case by officials in the Department and, most of all, indefensible orders for the career attorneys not to comply with lawful subpoenas investigating the dismissal, in June I resigned my position as a Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney.
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