Adams grew up in Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania and graduated from Hempfield Area High School. Adams received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from West Virginia University, then hisjuris doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1993, and was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1994. From 1993 to 1997, Adams served as counsel for Jim Miles, the Secretary of State of South Carolina. In 1999, the Virginia State Bar admitted Adams. Adams is an Eagle Scout.
The Washington Times noted in February 2001 that Adams filed a formal ethics complaint with the Florida Bar against Hugh Rodham, brother of then-U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, that accused Rodham of violating bar regulations by representing people considered for presidential pardon from former president Bill Clinton, husband of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Citing United States Department of Justice confidentiality rules, the Florida Bar ruled that Hugh Rodham did not violate any rules. Adams responded to the Bar by emphasizing that his complaint accused Rodham of illegally taking a contingent fee to represent the two clients appealing for a pardon. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2003 that the Transportation Security Administration falsely placed Adams in a No Fly List along with other people with names like "J. Adams".
In December 2007, Columbia, South Carolina newspaper The State reported that Adams called on increased oversight of the South Carolina Supreme Court in response to a controversy over the court reversing the grades of 20 who failed the bar exam.
The United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division under the George W. Bush administration hired Adams in 2005. In 2008, Adams was one of three federal attorneys probing Lake Park, Florida for possible bias against African-Americans being elected to town commission.
In December 2009, Adams's supervisor and Civil Rights Division attorney Christopher Coates stepped down as chief of the voting division in December 2009 amid controversy over his objections to the dropping of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case. Coates' testimony before the United States Civil Rights Commission supported Adams' allegations, and the Commission's report that found "a cover-up of a possible racial double standard in law enforcement in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice," and, detailing "a year of DOJ’s intransigence and baseless refusals to comply with our subpoenas," that "the Department of Justice is unquestionably hostile to any serious investigation of these allegations." In May 2010, Adams resigned from the Justice Department.
After leaving the Justice Department, Adams became counsel for the Election Law Center and a contributor to the center's blog. Additionally, he became a contributor to Pajamas Media. On June 28, 2010, The Washington Times published a guest commentary by Adams in which Adams accused the Justice Department of racial bias by dropping the New Black Panthers case. Subsequently, Adams accused Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of lying under oath in investigative hearings before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. On July 6, 2010, Adams testified before the Commission on Civil Rights that the Justice Department's decision was driven by racial bias against white Americans.