EDITORIAL: No Justice for Panther prosecutor

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Something is wrong with a Justice Department that treats its own attorneys worse than it treats civil-rights violators those attorneys would prosecute. On Friday, after evasive testimony by Justice official Thomas E. Perez to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, department attorney J. Christian Adams resigned in obvious disgust at the deep-sixing of a voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party.

Mr. Adams and Justice’s former voting rights section chief, Christopher Coates, are the two attorneys most responsible for pursuing the case against the Black Panthers videotaped in menacing poses outside a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008. Both lawyers have long histories of defending civil rights of Americans of all ethnicities. Mr. Coates began his career working on the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. But when apparatchiks chosen by the Obama administration overruled Mr. Coates and Mr. Adams by dismissing most sanctions in the already-won Black Panther case, liberal media outlets began portraying the two voting rights lawyers as right-wing activists.

At the end of last year, Justice “reassigned” Mr. Coates to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charleston, S.C., where - conveniently for his bosses - he was out of reach of the subpoena power of the Civil Rights Commission. Meanwhile, the department left Mr. Adams victim to a legal pincer movement created by its own flouting of federal law. By law, the commission has broad subpoena power. By law, “all Federal agencies shall cooperate fully with the Commission.” Yet when the commission subpoenaed Mr. Adams, his Obama-appointed superiors “ordered [him] not to comply,” according to his resignation letter.

“I have incurred significant personal expense 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,” he wrote. His attorney notified Justice that it could relieve Mr. Adams’ burden by “fil[ing] a motion in district court to quash the subpoena and thereby resolve conclusively any question about my obligation.” Instead, the department ignored both the commission and Mr. Adams, leaving the subpoena in limbo and Mr. Adams in a damned-either-way legal hell.

The letter confirmed it was “the decisions of individuals not in the Voting Section to order the dismissal of the case” - thus supporting the view that the decision was political, not legal. Jerry Jackson, the Black Panther against whom charges were dropped although he was videotaped working “in concert” with a colleague wielding a nightstick, is a member of the Philadelphia Democratic Executive Committee.

At Friday’s hearing, Mr. Perez gave scant explanation for dropping Mr. Jackson’s case. In reply, commission member Todd Gaziano told The Washington Times, “a racist application of the voting rights laws might have been at play” in the decision. Specifically, it appears Justice officials “don’t believe the voting rights laws should ever be enforced against blacks and other minorities.”

Mr. Adams could not abide such racism, nor being hung out to dry by his political bosses. That’s why a principled man had to leave a Justice Department run by President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

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