President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division was wrongly blocked by bipartisan opposition in the U.S. Senate Wednesday.
The vote against advancing Debo Adegbile toward confirmation was 47-52, shy of the majority needed under new procedures Democrats put in place late last year to overcome Republican stalling tactics.
However in this case Democratic desertions including Senator Bob Casey played a decisive role in the outcome. Casey and seven other Democratic senators joined all 44 Republicans including Sen. Pat Toomey in preventing a final vote.
The dissenting Senate vote should dismay those seeking fairness.
Adegbile’s nomination was defeated not because he was unqualified for the job, but because of politics.
Adegbile, a longtime official at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, faced few, if any, objections to his record as an advocate for voting rights cases he has argued before the Supreme Court.
But Republican and Democratic opponents said Adegbile’s connection with the legal case of Mumia Abu-Jamal disqualified him from holding public office. Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Danny Faulkner.
GOP chairman Reince Preibus said in a statement that Adegbile had been “a convicted cop killer’s most ardent defender.”
District Attorney Seth Williams also weighed in against Adegbile’s nomination. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell quoted Williams saying Adegbile’s work in the Abu-Jamal case sent a ‘message of contempt” to police.
The facts support the case for Adegbile’s nomination.
It should be noted that while he was working at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 2006 when it first intervened in the case years after Abu-Jamal had been convicted, the decision to join the effort was made by another official. By then, the death sentence in the case had long since been overturned.
Abu-Jamal was originally convicted and sentenced to death in state court, but a federal district court vacated the death penalty, a ruling upheld by two appeals courts and let stand by the U.S. Supreme Court.
It should be noted that the judge who initially overturned the death penalty, and the two appeals court judges who upheld it, had been appointed by Republican presidents.
Lawyers sometimes represent controversial defendants.
Sen. Dick Durbin, noted that a Founding Father, John Adams, “made the unpopular decision to represent a British soldier on the eve of the Revolutionary War.”
Chief Justice John Roberts once provided pro bono representation to a man who had been convicted of killing eight people.
Senators did not raise such concerns about Roberts’ defense of a convicted killer. Why the double-standard?
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