The Disgraceful Rejection of Debo Adegbile

Debo Adegbile, President Obama's nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, was rejected by the Senate earlier this week. This is a dismaying vote, a combination of Republicans increasingly hostile to civil rights and a small but crucial number of Democratic senators too timorous to stand up to Republican smear campaigns.

The primary ostensible basis for the rejection of the eminently qualified Adegbile was his small role in the legal defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was convicted for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer, and as Michael McGough says it's fair to say that Abu-Jamal has been "the beneficiary of uncritical adulation and a form of 'radical chic'" from some activists and celebrities both home and abroad. Certainly, Abu-Jamal is not my idea of a hero, but this is all irrelevant to Adegbile. He wasn't spending his time leading "Free Mumia" rallies or defending the murder of police officers. He simply part of the team at the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund (LDF) that participated in an appeal of Abu-Jamal's death sentence. The LDF has been at the forefront of constitutional challenges to the death penalty for decades; there was nothing remotely unusual or improper about Adegbile's actions. And nor was this a frivolous constitutional challenge—a unanimous Third Circuit panel including two Republican appointees found Abu-Jamal's death sentence unconstitutional.

According to a letter written by Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the slain officer, "I would argue that Mr. Adegbile's decision to defend a cop killer should preclude him from holding any public position." One can forgive Faulkner for saying this given her loss, but for members of the United States Senate—many of whom are lawyers—to publicly endorse this transparently dangerous and irresponsible position is a disgrace. Everyone, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, is entitled to a fair trial an a competent defense of their constitutional rights. To equate a defense counsel with the defendant is not only grossly unfair guilt-by-association, it would essentially make criminal defense impossible.

Admittedly, for the Republicans who voted against Adegbile, Abdul-Jamal was probably pretext rather than cause—I very much doubt that many if any Republican senators actually believe that lawyers are guilty of the sins of those they defend. The real issue with Adegbile is that he would act to robustly defend civil rights, something contemporary Republicans oppose. After all, this isn't the first time Republicans have delayed or defeated a nominee to head the civil rights division who they suspect of actually wanting to enforce civil rights. "Between them, Presidents Clinton and Obama have nominated five people to head the Division," observes Samuel Bagenstos of the University of Michigan Law School. "Only two were confirmed (Deval Patrick and Tom Perez). Of the other three, one had to withdraw under pressure (Lani Guinier), one received a recess appointment after his confirmation was stalled for more than two years (Bill Lann Lee), and one was defeated yesterday."

In other words, the extraordinary stupid arguments that Republican Senators raised about Abu-Jamal shouldn't be allowed to conceal their real agenda: kneecapping federal efforts to do things like protect voting rights, address police brutality, oppose employment discrimination. The Republican rejection of Adegbile is of a piece with a broader anti-civil rights agenda, such as their ongoing efforts to suppress the vote of racial minorities and the poor and a bare majority of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act based on incoherent arguments with no basis in the text of the Constitution.

So Republican opposition to Adegbile was, while reprehensible, easily explicable. But Democrats control the Senate, and nominees like Adegbile can no longer be filibustered—he lost on a straight up-or-down vote. So it's worth directing particular ire at the 7 Democratic senators who joined the Republican war on civil rights. Five of these votes at least came from senators from states that voted for Romney, an explanation if not an excuse. Particularly worthy of scorn are the two blue-state senators, Pennsylvania's Bob Casey Jr. and Delaware's Chris Coons. Casey's stated justification for his nay vote was frankly embarrassing:

I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime. At the same time, it is important that we ensure that Pennsylvanians and citizens across the country have full confidence in their public representatives — both elected and appointed. The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the City of Philadelphia.

So defendants have a right to a defense, but a lawyer participating in this defense cannot have the "full confidence" of the public? If a teacher was trying to explain the concept of a "non-sequitur" to their students I'm not sure they could come up with a better example. And worse, it's a non-sequitur that's subversive of the rule of law.

Senate Republicans are going to do anything they can to inhibit federal civil rights enforcement, up to and including cynical, demagogic campaigns against dedicated public servants. But for 7 Democrats to join the mob is an act of cowardice contrary to the values that the head of the Civil Rights Division is supposed to uphold. To reject the a nominee to head the Civil Rights division because ... of his successful support for civil rights is a cruel irony indeed.


Your statement (fantasy?): “The primary ostensible basis for the rejection of the eminently qualified Adegbile was his small role in the legal defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal” is almost laughable. If one your students was this sloppy in their research I would hope that they receive a failing grade. Adegbile was not some lower legal functionary who was in the office down the hall from the decision-makers that chose this windmill to tilt! He served as director of litigation under president John Payton when LDF took on Abu-Jamal’s case in 2011. As part of the background that you would argue makes Adegbile qualified for this position is would be his claim to: “oversee the legal program and supervises the legal staff in the areas Criminal, and Economic Justice, Education, and Political Participation, while remaining actively engaged in litigation and advocacy.” So we can credit him with that experience, but not hold him accountable for his decisions! How sad.

And you're an idiot. A fascist rightie, no doubt.

The fundamental conundrum of democracy is that each of the above two posters receives an equal vote.

Any substance to add to the conversation? Or just another stupid insult?

You're absolutely right, another left left wing nut job professor that should only be teaching in Kenyan or places unknown to American conservatives. The guy should have never been submitted s a candidate for a doj job, but look at the current nut jobs working there, along with the epa, irs, doh, and all the rest of them, this government should be turned inside out and scraped. We have nothing but gutless wonders of stupidity in the major positions, and the sooner we put a clamp on obo and his stupidity the better.

A journalist tells the complete story while a propagandist tells only part of a story to shape it into what he wants. The story is propaganda pure and simple.
Debo did not simply represent the accused who was found guilty of killing a police officer. He volunteered for the job and he pursued it with great zeal. He created rallies and a media campaign because he felt that the accused was "a symbol of the racial injustices of the death penalty". Debo, in other words, turned the trial into a media circus because he thought about everything in terms of race. He claimed that that "there is no question in the mind of anyone at the Legal Defense Fund (the trial) has everything to do with race and that is why the Legal Defense Fund is in the case." After the trial was over and all legal challenges had been completed, Debo continued to fight the system for the accused.
The concern about Debo as Mr. Obama's appointee has nothing to do with hurting Obama. It has everything to do with not allowing an extreme liberal ideologue who views everything through a racial prism into a high position in the civil rights division of the DOJ. Five different law enforcement organization were so insulted by Debo's over the top effort on the trial that they all filed statements how they felt Debo was completely unacceptable as an appointee. Mr. Obama has already stoked the flames of racial tensions with the DOJ when the Black Panthers were allowed to stand in election locations and intimidate voters, his comments about the Trayvon Martin case and other situations. Mr. Obama has already turned the IRS, the EPA and other government offices into political weapons to force his ideas onto the country and silence his critics. Adding Debo to the DOJ would have turned the DOJ into an organization where justice came in a distant second to race and this is the reason why Debo was not confirmed.

You are exactly right Idahodoc. Mr. Adegbile is not just notorious for his defense of Mumia and the many civil protests he orchestrated and spoke at, but also for many other far far left theories. Like 'disparate impact theory'. This is a theory that prohibits emplyers from using racially NEUTRAL employment practices. That sentence is so insane that only true far left folks could even understand it. Further, this president is now causing so many problems for his cheerleaders in the Senate and House, he is making it virtually a certainty that Republicans will retain the House and retake the Senate. I, for one, think they are getting exactly what they deserve from him. This 2010 deja vu. He told the Democrat House, "I will protect you, just stick with me". Those dems have either gone home, are working on K Street or now back in academia. But they lost their House jobs because of OCare. Now, there's a new crop getting ready to be 'thumped' again. How did these idiots ever beat us?

Robert Bork. "'The nomination changed everything, maybe forever,' says Tom Goldstein, publisher of the popular SCOTUSblog, which extensively covers the Supreme Court. 'Republicans nominated this brilliant guy to move the law in this dramatically more conservative direction. Liberal groups turned around and blocked him precisely because of those views. Their fight legitimized scorched-earth ideological wars over nominations at the Supreme Court, and to this day both sides remain completely convinced they were right. '" From Robert Bork's Supreme Court Nomination 'Changed Everything, Maybe Forever' by Nina Totenberg, You reap what you sew.

I get the "lawyer for the defense" meme, however a nominee should be the best person that can be approved by the Senate. Clearly, Mr. Adegbile wasn't up to snuff regardless of the reasons. Seven Democrats said "no" - and probably now wish they had a similar epiphany on Obamacare.

A rare sign of hope: I'm inmpressed by the thoughtful, fact-based comments on this column, in such contrast to the hysterical and mendacious tone of Lemieux's column itself. Republicans have no "anti-civil-rights agenda," and of course it was Democrats who had to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the Jim Crow era. Republicans do object, strenuously, to utterly false cries of "racism" whenever they try to prevent Democrats from stealing elections through fraud, or from nominating vicious race-baiters like Adegbile -- or for that matter Eric Holder -- to high government offices.

Jonathan Tobin has a superb refutation of all the abject nonsense in this column.

Enough race baiters in the Justice Dept already.

Debo taking Mumia's case when Mumia was FIRST arrested would have been a lawyer doing his job. Debo taking taking Mumia's case AFTER eyewittnesses identified Mumia as the killer of Faulkner? Debo was using legal tricks and Barnum side-show tactics to stir up trouble in "defense" of a cold-blooded killer. The U.S. American government bureaucracy, starting with the legal system, is absolutely corrupt. City, county, state, federal.

Harry Reid told Obama that he didn't have the votes to approve his nominee, but Obama told him to go ahead with the vote anyway.

Why would he do that?

It because Democrats are looking for ways to divide this nation along racial lines anyway they can. Fictionalizing the GOP's war on women, its racism, & its disregard of & lack of caring for, poor people has been the Democrats' strategy for years, & they've got a lapdog media that helps sell the public on their propaganda.

Representation is one matter
Advocacy is quite the other
It is unfortunate the author chose to use histrionics, sophistry and caricature to obfuscate such certainties
Those with sober countenance of a less sophomoric bent saw Mr. Adegbile for what he truly was
To the benefit of all

"But contrary to this spin, Adegbile and the NAACP were not a latter day version of patriot John Adams defending the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre. Far from merely writing briefs on Constitutional issues involving Abu-Jamal’s conviction, Adegbile’s lawyers were part of the propaganda campaign aimed at besmirching the victim and the Philadelphia Police Department and portraying a killer who was literally caught red-handed with the murder weapon as a heroic martyr. Under these circumstances, it’s little wonder that some Democrats wanted no part of the nomination, especially those like Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, Jr. and Delaware’s Chris Coons voted against cloture for the nomination, whose constituents know the facts of the case and despicable work of Abu-Jamal’s cheerleaders.” Commentary Magazine. ...and lest you all forget the Republicans are responsible for passing the Civil Rights legislation of 1964. The Democrats were busy burning crosses.

It is not so much the Debo's decision to defend a man like AbuJamal, but the manner in which he carried it out. The dead officer and the police department and the prosecutor were all dragged through the mud and accused of racism and misconduct. There was no proof of this, it was all simply whispers, innuendo and lies. Essentially, the defense team, led by Debo, saved their client from the death penalty by perverting justice and by sowing discord and racial hatred between blacks and white in Philadelphia. He created wounds that can never heal.

This article only tells part of the story. Debo Adegbile did much more than just represent Mumia Abu-Jamal, see In a sense this is part of the ongoing payback for Robert Bork's failed nomination, when a brilliant but conservative jurist was denied a seat on the Supreme Court for specifically ideological reasons. It is hypocritical for leftists who have spiked nominations of conservatives for ideological reasons to complain about it when the same thing happens to them.

Let's face it. This nomination was another Obama atrocity. The only people that could support it are those that delight in cop killing. That most democrats voted for it tells you how extreme the entire party has become under Obama. This was another of those whacko far out extremists nomination that have already given us the most corrupt and racially motivated Justice Dept in history. That this atrocious nomination was defeated by democrats shows how bad it truly was, and how far Obama has strayed from the American People.

Scott disgraces himself.

Get the hint. It's time to stop hating on white people in America and using the power of the federal government to harass and intimidate them in neighborhoods, cities, towns, and schools throughout the land.

Five years of this %^#@ from Obama/Holder is enough; the last thing we need is another racist who hates white people in the Obama administration.

As an instructor at a community college, Political Science and Government, this essay is exactly what I get from my freshman, a regurgitation of memes that they have read in social blog or saw on TV.

The race-baiter was "borked". Rightfully so in this case. Lemiuex is a silly guy.

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(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)