At the time Noxubee County got its letter, the ACRU’s legal work was led by J. Christian Adams, a former staff attorney in the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Adams joined the department in 2005, when high-ranking official Bradley Schlozman was found by the department’s inspector general to be illegally using political ideology to fill the Civil Rights Division with conservative lawyers. Adams, a conservative attorney from South Carolina, was “exhibit A” of Schlozman’s hiring practices, a former department official who participated in Adams’ job interview later said.
Adams’ early cases at the ACRU were assisted by Christopher Coates, Adams’ former boss at the Justice Department. Previously an attorney for the ACLU, Coates appears to have undergone an ideological conversion while at the Justice Department; one colleague suggested this might have been spurred in part by the promotion of a black attorney to a job he wanted. In 2007, with Bush in office, he rose to Voting Section chief. Like Adams, Robert Popperjoined the Voting Section in 2005 and later became Coates’ deputy. When he left the department in 2013, he joined the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, an early player in spearheading voter purge cases.
In the Voting Section, all three men were at the center of contentious debates over the direction of voting rights enforcement. In 2005, Adams and Coates made history when they brought the first Voting Rights Act case alleging black discrimination against whites—and won. The case targeted the head of the local Democratic Party in Noxubee County. Coates told the US Commission on Civil Rights that the criticism of the case within the department demonstrated internal hostility to “race-neutral enforcement of the VRA.”
In 2008, Coates and Popper assigned Adams to prosecute a case against the New Black Panther Party and two of its members who were spotted outside a polling location in Philadelphia on Election Day, one of them carrying a nightstick. When the Obama administration took over, the department’s new leadership threw out most of the charges Adams recommended. The case became a cause célèbre of the right. Adams resigned in protest of the Obama administration’s handling of the case, and Coates faced criticism from higher-ups over his work on it. According to a subsequent report by the department’s inspector general, when Eric Holder became attorney general in 2009, he was told that Coates wanted to pursue more “reverse-discrimination” cases and that Coates did not believe “in the traditional way in which things had been done in the Civil Rights Division.”
As a private citizen, Adams worked with Judicial Watch to file lawsuits aimed at trimming voter rolls, before joining the ACRU in 2013. In 2015, he became president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, another conservative nonprofit law firm whose work has overlapped with the ACRU’s, where he sent letters similar to the Noxubee County one to 141 counties in 21 states in 2015. In 2011, he published Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department, an exposé of alleged racism against white people in the Civil Rights Division. He became a frequent commentator on Fox News and a blogger at the right-wing PJ Media, where he recently railed against the “Deep State leftists” of the “DOJ Swamp.”