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Senate Rejects Obama Pick For Justice Department Because of Abu-Jamal Case

In an outrageous flouting of the tenets of the American legal system, the Senate yesterday defeated the nomination of Debo P. Adegbile, President Obama’s pick for head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, because Adegbile once worked with the NAACP Legal Defense fund on the controversial case of prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The death sentence of Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in 1981 for killing Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner, has been a cause celebre among liberals and Black nationalists for years. Abu-Jamal was a respected journalist when the crime occurred, and there were many questions surrounding his guilt. Abu-Jamal, a former president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, has written several books since he was placed on death row more than 30 years ago, and was called by the New York Times “perhaps the world’s best known death-row inmate.”

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund helped Abu-Jamal’s removal from death row in January 2012. As a legal counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for a decade, Adegbile represented Abu-Jamal after his death sentence was reversed, contributing to the filing of a 2009 court brief that argued that he faced a discriminatory jury — an appeal found to have merit by a judge.

But because he served as counsel for a controversial defendant— something every defendant is supposed to be provided according to the foundation of the American system of jurisprudence— years later Adegbile was made to pay by Republicans.

Republicans in the Senate, joined by seven Democrats facing tough re-elections, argued that he should be disqualified from holding any publicly appointed position in the justice system. Their stance was supported by Faulkner’s widow.

According to the Washington Post, a senior aide to one of the senators who voted against the nominee said several senators were “very angry” at the White House for moving ahead with Adegbile’s nomination, since it knew the vote could leave Democrats who are facing tough re-election races vulnerable to attack ads.

“It’s a vote you didn’t have to take. It’s a 30-second ad that writes itself,” said the anonymous aide.

But the White House apparently thought it had the votes until a few Democrats defected at the last minute. The final vote was 47-52—even as Vice President Joe Biden was on hand to provide a tie-breaking vote that turned out not to be needed. The nominee was Obama’s first to be rejected under new Senate rules forbidding the use of the filibuster on most presidential nominees.

The Senate Democrats who opposed the nominee were: Christopher A. Coons (Del.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and John Walsh (Mont.). At the last minute, Senate majority leader Harry Reid switched to a “No” vote when he realized Adegbile would fall short, thus giving Reid the possibility of bringing the vote to the Senate floor again. His aides say it’s unclear whether that will happen.

The president said Adegbile, 47, was the victim of “wildly unfair character attacks.”

“As a lawyer, Mr. Adegbile has played by the rules,” Obama said. “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.”

Reid said that as the son of Irish and Nigerian immigrants, Adegbile was a personification of the American dream.

“Despite all this nominee has achieved,” Reid said. “Republicans have not given this good man a fair shot at confirmation.”

But the Republicans didn’t hesitant to crow about the embarrassing defeat for the president.

“Today is a good day for Pennsylvania, for America, and for those who believe in justice,” said Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who led the opposition to Adegbile’s nomination and read a letter from Faulkner’s widow on the Senate floor. “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.”

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