Saying ties to the country’s “most notorious cop-killer” was a question of professional fitness, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., led the way to defeating a key Obama nominee on Wednesday.
It marks the first time one of the president’s appointments has failed to move through the Senate since Democrats changed the rules last year to overcome McConnell’s effective filibusters.
Seven Senate Democrats joined the GOP caucus to block Debo Adegbile from heading up the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Adegbile previously worked as a defense attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther who was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner over three decades ago.
Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell cited a number of of law enforcement agencies who objected to the nomination.
“The National Fraternal Order of Police wrote President Obama to express its ‘vehement opposition to the nomination.’ The FOP wrote that ‘as word of this nomination spreads through the law enforcement community, reactions range from anger to incredulity,’ and that it ‘can be interpreted in only one way: it is a thumb in the eye of our nation’s law enforcement officers,’” he said.
“The Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association wrote me a powerful letter in opposition to the nomination as well. In it, they note that, ‘The thought that [the nominee] would be rewarded, in part, for the work he did for Officer Faulkner’s killer is revolting.”
Adegbile helped overturn Abu-Jamal’s death sentence six years ago as part of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. In that case, a judge found merit in a case presented by Abu-Jamal’s attorneys, who argued he faced a discriminatory jury.
The racially charged case has been a controversial 30-year legal battle with law enforcement groups and Faulkner’s family on one side and international human rights activists on the other. The latter argues Abu-Jamal, who is African-American, was unfairly convicted and framed for the killing due to his race.
In a statement, President Obama denounced the Senate for its “character attacks” on Adegbile for his legal representation.
From The White House:
The Senate’s failure to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant. Mr. Adegbile’s qualifications are impeccable.
He represents the best of the legal profession, with wide-ranging experience, and the deep respect of those with whom he has worked. His unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law – including voting rights – could not be more important right now. And Mr. Adegbile’s personal story – rising from adversity to become someone who President Bush’s Solicitor General referred to as one of the nation’s most capable litigators – is a story that proves what America has been and can be for people who work hard and play by the rules.
As a lawyer, Mr. Adgebile has played by the rules. And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him. The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice – and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant.
Democrats and civil rights groups rallied behind Adgebile’s credentials, which many expected could have been a tie vote broken by Vice President Joe Biden.
In the end, however, McConnell and a bipartisan group of senators were able to hold out by a 47-52 vote.
“Everyone deserves a fair trial and a zealous legal defense. And lawyers aren’t personally responsible for the actions of their clients,” McConnell said. “But lawyers are responsible for their own actions. In this case, the nominee inserted his office in an effort to turn reality on its head, impugn honorable and selfless law enforcement officers, and glorify an unrepentant cop-killer.”