Debo Adegbile, who worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund from 2001 to 2013, was nominated by the Obama Administration to serve in the Department of Justice and led the Civil Rights Division. He is currently a senior counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Adegbile has faced Republican opposition, however, because of a NAACP brief in 2009 that sought to overturn the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The NAACP argued improper safeguards were taken to prevent racial discrimination during jury selection. Eventually, Abu-Jamal’s death sentence was struck down though he remains imprisoned without the possibility of parole.
While the NAACP’s action was routine, Abu-Jamal’s case has been anything but. Abu-Jamal was a social activist during the 1960’s and 1970’s whose murder of a white police officer, Daniel Faulkner, in 1981 galvanized racial tensions in Philadelphia. After his conviction, Abu-Jamal became even more outspoken writing a book, newspaper columns, and even a radio show from his prison cell.
To Philadelphians of a certain age the thirty-year old case still has resonance. Thus was the tempest Bob Casey stepped into this weekend.
“I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime,” Casey said in a statement issued Friday. “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. After carefully considering this nomination and having met with both Mr. Adegbile as well as the Fraternal Order of Police, I will not vote to confirm the nominee.”
Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democratic Philadelphia DA Seth Williams wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal calling for the nomination to be withdrawn.
“It is disturbing that Debo Adegbile—a man with impressive credentials but an unconscionable record in the Abu-Jamal case—is poised to become the next assistant attorney general to lead this division,” they wrote.
Toomey held a conference call with reporters on Monday to further lay out his rationale for opposing Adegbile’s nomination, referring to him as one of the “extremist, radical” people seeking to defend Abu-Jamal. Toomey also repeatedly mentioned Casey’s opposition.
“I hope that he will not be confirmed,” Toomey said of Adegbile. “He faces bipartisan opposition. I appreciate the fact Bob Casey came out against the confirmation. He is a very, very poor choice to run the Civil Rights Division.”
Adegbile only needs 51 votes for confirmation but the loss of Casey, who has a long history with the President that includes endorsing him over Hillary Clinton in 2008, may signal the defection of more Democrats and the ultimate rejection of Adegbile’s nomination.
This is not the first time Abu-Jamal has turned into a political football. In 2006, Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick and then-Sen. Rick Santorum each introduced congressional resolutions condemning the naming of a street after Abu-Jamal in Paris.