The Slatest

Prominent South Carolina Democrat Drops Clinton Endorsement to Back Sanders

Justin Bamberg (far right) at the South Carolina state house in Columbia on July 8, 2015, during debate over the removal of the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds.

Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Overwhelming support from black voters is said to be Hillary Clinton’s “firewall” against the possibility of Bernie Sanders victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s the reason that she’s likely to build a delegate lead by winning primaries across the South in late February and early March. As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie wrote last week, Clinton’s advantage in this area has been built through decades of appearances and face-to-face conversations with voters and influential figures at “black civic and community organizations, from church networks to civil rights groups.” The idea is that Sanders, however appealing his policy positions might be to black Americans, does not have Hillary’s level of recognition and bank of relationships to draw on. And it’s with all this in mind that the New York Times’ report on an endorsement switch in South Carolina (the first Southern primary, on Feb. 27) is noteworthy:

The lawyer for the family of Walter L. Scott, who was fatally shot by a police officer in South Carolina, is withdrawing his support from Hillary Clinton and endorsing Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Monday afternoon.

The lawyer, State Representative Justin T. Bamberg of South Carolina, said he is switching sides because he believes Mrs. Clinton embodies establishment politics, while Mr. Sanders offers a bolder platform that will improve the lives of people in the South and across the country.

Walter Scott is the unarmed black man who was shot in the back and killed in North Charleston in April 2015 after a traffic stop in an incident that a bystander recorded on video. (Bamberg helped negotiate a $6.5 million settlement for Scott’s family; the officer who shot Scott has been charged with murder.) Bamberg “decided to support Mr. Sanders after the two men spoke for 20 minutes last week on Martin Luther King’s Birthday” about Scott’s death and criminal justice reform, the Times reports.

In addition to representing Scott’s family, Bamberg was also prominent in the successful effort to remove a Confederate flag from the grounds of South Carolina’s state house; the bill that made the flag’s removal official was proposed after a white supremacist murdered nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in June 2015. From a CBS News story at the time:

“People say he was wrapped in hate, that he was a hateful person,” said Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg. “Well, his hate was wrapped in the cloak of that Confederate flag. That is why that flag is coming down.”

If you want to feel inadequate about what you’ve accomplished in your life, incidentally, consider that Justin Bamberg graduated from college in 2009.