In a surprising development, the Senate today voted against confirmation of Debo Adegbile to be the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Adegbile’s nomination stirred controversy because of his involvement with a NAACP brief that was filed on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal, a black social activist, murdered Daniel Faulkner, a white police officer, in 1981. His case has since become a contentious racial hot point in the city of Philadelphia.
The NAACP sought, and eventually won, a reversal of the death penalty sentence for Abu-Jamal. He is still imprisoned, with no possibility of parole.
Last week, Senator Bob Casey announced that he would be opposing Adegbile’s nomination. Additionally, his colleague Senator Toomey led the effort against Adegbile, including writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and holding a conference call with reporters.
It seems that the Obama Administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid believed the nomination would pass. Under the rules Democrats fought for last year, executive branch nominees only need 51 votes. Vice President Biden also presided over the vote, a rare occurrence which suggests Sen. Reid thought he had at least 50 votes (the Vice President breaks any tie).
Instead eight Democrats voted against the nomination. Casey was among them along with six red-state Senators: Mark Pryor (AR), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), John Walsh (MT) and Joe Donnelly (IN). Perhaps most surprisingly, Delaware Senator Chris Coons also voted against the nomination.
Sen. Coons had already voted for Adegbile in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the nomination was passed on a party-line 10-8 vote. It is possible, however, that the Delaware Senator feared repercussions in his state which borders Philadelphia. Coons is facing re-election this year and cited the Abu-Jamal case as the reason for his switch.
Toomey voiced his support soon after the vote.
“Today is a good day for Pennsylvania, for America, and for those who believe in justice. It was a hard fought victory to the end. I appreciate the bipartisan support of my colleagues — including Senators Casey, Coons, and Manchin — and from Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams in opposing the confirmation of Mr. Adegbile.
“Today the Senate affirmed that our criminal justice system must never be abused to propagate a dishonest, radical agenda. The American people, especially law enforcement and Maureen Faulkner, deserve better.”
The story of the vote, as with all things in the Senate, is complicated. The final vote was 47-52, but Senator Reid had to vote against it for procedural reasons so that it may be brought up again in the future. Before then, the vote stood at 48-51. Therefore, Coons decision may have been affected by the fact that his support still would’ve still left Adegbile a vote short.
Several vulnerable red-states Democrats voted to support the nomination, including Mark Begich (AK), Mary Landrieu (LA) and Kay Hagan (NC). Since these Senators are facing re-election this year, it is highly unlikely they anticipated that the vote would fail.
The most likely scenario is that one or more red-state Democrats who are not up for re-election this year (Donnelly, Heitkamp, Manchin) promised Reid their vote but backed out.
Nonetheless, Casey’s strong opposition gave many of these Democrats cover and had he and his neighboring blue-state Sen. Chris Coons supported Adegbile he would’ve won the vote.
The White House issued a statement after the vote calling condemning the Senate’s action.
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,” their statement asserted. “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.”
Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks), who was one of the first to take issue with Abu-Jamal, praised the decision.
“Today, a bipartisan majority of Senators stood on the side of the law enforcement community and the family of Officer Daniel Faulkner in opposing the misguided nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice,” Fitzpatrick said.
Watching the liberal drivel about John Roberts and defendant’s right to representation is disgusting.
This scumbag, as head of the Legal Defense Fund, had a decision to make: (1) recognize the cold hard facts of the case and acknowledge that the ongoing support for Wesley Cook is race baiting bullshit; or (2) join in the circus and try and save a cop-killer.
This wasn’t about representation, it was about Debo the Defender playing the race card and further dividing this country. The fact that this President would choose someone with those credentials says much about him. Only three more years…
Read Murdered by Mumia.
I applaud Senators Casey, Toomey and Philadelphia DA Seth Williams for their courage and conviction to not support Adegbile for the Justice Department position. And to those of you who are attempting to play the race card–YOU are the racists.
I’m disappointed in Casey for being unable to separate Adegbile’s qualification and the principles of accused people having a legal defense from the Abu-Jamal third-rail of PA politics.
In 2014 we expect to take back the PA Governor’s office.
In 2016, Dems will be retiring Toomey.
In 2018, Casey will be up for re-election. This vote increases the chances he will face a primary challenge.
I guess those people who applaud the decision also were against Supreme Court Justice John Roberts nomination. He represented a serial killer pro bono when he was practicing…
Isn’t the real issue here the fact the guy defended an infamous cop killer not at trial but on a collateral appeal largely based on racial emotions and not facts? This is not about him defending bad people, but his role in defending a criminal celebrity of the left who killed a cop in cold blood.
Adegbile’s nomination was nothing more than a smack in the face to law abiding Americans by Obama and Holder.
There are countless professionals who could fill this position who are not as radical nor controversial as Adegbile.
Until Adegbile’s nomination I did not believe there could be a person worse than Thomas Perez to fill this spot. Obama proved me wrong and I thank Toomey, Casey, and Coons for preventing Obama and Holder from further degrading the office.
You showed some guts. Well done.
Weak-kneed Bob Casey. What a disappointment. This vote is just one more example that racism is alive and well in America. The candidate couldn’t have been deemed unqualified on his experience. So what was it? He was indirectly involved in a high-profile murder case where a black man killed a white cop that took place more than three decades ago. There are simply still too many Democrats in this country that are okay with civil rights progress on the surface, but at an emotional level just can’t help being bigots themselves. .
Sue and Avedon miss an important distinction. Adebile did not represent a criminal defendant on trial, or even on direct appeal. That, of course, is difficult but honorable and necessary work in our justice system. Long after the direct appeal process, Adegbile got involved as part of the Legal Defense Fund effort to collaterally attack the conviction and death sentence in habeas corpus proceedings. The LDF effort was entirely driven by racial motives. Adegbile’s involvement at that stage sets him apart from the typical criminal defense attorney. You have to understand the nature of the LDF movement. Ultimately, if you’re going to get involved in a racially motivated and trendy-in-Hollywood movement (which Mumia himself turned into a circus by threatening to kill a judge and other tantrums), you have to face the consequences.
So, the only lawyer who can be confirmed is one who has never defended someone who might be guilty? That means the only qualified lawyer is…Perry Mason.
I generally do not support your political positions, however; I applaud your NO vote concerning the nomination of Debo Adegbile for appointment to Justice Dept Civil Rights Division. As a democrat this vote, against your party line, must have been hard. Thank you for your integrity and a decision to do what I believe is right.
Shame on Bob Casey for this vote. Apparently Casey bought into the Fox smear of Adegbile.
Count on Casey to take the unprincipled, easy way instead of upholding the principle that every defendant deserves vigorous defense in our adversarial system.
Not to mention the nominees long career as a civil rights lawyer is NOT only about this one client of his organization.
ALSO not to mention the findings that took Jamal off death row were by a unanimous court that included several republican appointees!