Bipartisan senators block civil rights nominee after charged debate
March 5th, 2014
07:22 PM ET
8 years ago

Bipartisan senators block civil rights nominee after charged debate

(CNN) – In a surprisingly strong vote, the Senate on Wednesday blocked President Barack Obama’s controversial choice to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

The bipartisan rejection came after the widow of a slain Philadelphia officer pleaded with senators to vote “no.”

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On a 47 to 52 tally, Republicans were joined by seven Democrats voting to continue a filibuster of Debo Adegbile’s nomination for the influential post, which enforces the nation’s anti-discrimination laws.

Under new Senate rules that were put in place by the Democrats who control the chamber, only 51 votes were needed to overcome the filibuster, not the 60 that used to be required.

Critics charged Adegbile helped turn the appeals process for Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was found guilty in 1981 of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner, into a racially-charged political cause, and, in doing so, went far beyond his duties as a lawyer.

Abu-Jamal is currently serving life in prison after his death sentence was successfully appealed on questions related to jury instructions.

Adegbile supporters argue he was a diligent attorney for the respected NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, which, beginning in 2006, filed briefs on behalf of Abu-Jamal when prosecutors appealed the overturned death sentence.

The President issued a statement calling the outcome of the vote “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey led the charge against Adegbile’s nomination.

“Under Mr. Adegbile’s oversight, LDF lawyers promoted the pernicious myth that Abu-Jamal was an innocent man, that he was framed because of his race,” Toomey said. “There was never any merit to claims of racism.”

Toomey was bolstered by the National Fraternal Order of Police, the powerful police union, which lobbied senators and sent a letter to Obama expressing “extreme disappointment” about the pick.

Abu-Jamal’s “just sentence – death - was undone by your nominee and others like him who turned the justice system on its head with unfounded and unproven allegations of racism, “ the letter said.

Adegbile’s defenders note that he was not the one who made the decision for the LDF to work on Abu-Jamal’s appeal.

“Even if it had been his decision,” argued Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, “it is not something that should disqualify him from serving the public. Our legal system is an adversary system, predicated upon legal advocacy for both sides.”

Adegbile currently works for Leahy on the Judiciary Committee. At his confirmation hearing, Adegbile defended his work on behalf of Abu-Jamal and told Leahy that working on death sentence appeals are the “most harrowing cases.”

“Somebody has been killed and that sends ripples through families, through communities and societies,” he said. “So these are the hardest cases but our commitment in the Constitution is to follow our procedural rules even in those hardest cases.”

Republicans raised other questions about Adegbile, including his arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in a high-profile gun rights case. They pressured Democrats, especially those up for re-election, to vote against him.

Casey was the first Democrat to publicly oppose Adegbile. It is important the public has “full confidence in their pubic representatives” he said last week while arguing there are still “open wounds” from Faulkner’s murder.

In addition to Casey, other Democratic senators who opposed the nomination include Chris Coons of Delaware, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and John Walsh of Montana.

On the Senate floor, Toomey read a letter from Faulkner’s widow: “’I would argue that Mr. Adegbile’s decision to defend a cop killer should preclude him from holding any public position,’” she implored.

“I voted my conscience after having a long conversation with the widow of the slain police officer,” Manchin explained after the vote.

Asked if he thought Adegbile had acted inappropriately in his defense of Abu-Jamal, Manchin, who also met with Adegbile before voting, said, “I’m not judging anybody about anything.”

Senate Democratic leaders defended their decision to push for the vote and suggested Republicans blocked Adegbile because he’s a voting rights expert who would have pushed those issues in office.

“Republicans have done everything they can for a number of years now trying to stop people from voting,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid charged.

But in the end, Reid said, this nomination came down to “a dispute between the police and the civil rights community.”

Filed under: Congress • Senate
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Marie MD

    We need new "democrats" in those states. Simple. Our votes count. VOTE!!!

    March 5, 2014 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  2. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the majority repub/tea bag members

    The Philadelphia Inquirer, which exhaustively covered Abu-Jamal's conviction and appeals, strongly disagreed [with the widow of the slain police officer, who believes that nominee Adegbile should not win confirmation] in a Tuesday editorial:

    "To argue that Adegbile, one of the country's foremost legal scholars — especially when it comes to civil rights law — should be disqualified from the Justice post because he participated in Abu-Jamal's appeals is an affront to what it means to live in America. This country allows every convict to exhaustively appeal a verdict, even when all the prior evidence appears to have assured his guilt."

    In other words, the repub/tea bags don't believe in due process.

    March 5, 2014 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  3. guest

    We're a 1st world country with a world administration.

    March 5, 2014 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  4. Pander Bear

    Yeah how dare this lawyer try to defend his client!

    6th Amendment – In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to HAVE THE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL FOR HIS DEFENCE

    March 5, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  5. jeanht

    Mumia killed a man by shooting him in the back and Adegbile tried to make it okay because the man, a cop, was part of a racist justice system. One does not excuse the other. Adegbile's argument while legal, was unjust to the dead man and his family.

    March 5, 2014 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  6. yolanda

    Maybe Harry can change the rules (again) so he only needs 40 votes.......

    March 5, 2014 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  7. Rick McDaniel

    The guy was totally unacceptable for the job.

    March 5, 2014 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  8. sammy750

    Fox News lead the charge against Debo Adegbile for defending a killer. Fox News never told the nation that that the US States Supreme Court Justice Roberts defended a killer of 8 in Florida for FREE. So Fox News is fair and honest, I think not. Where are those that voted against Debo Adegbile, did they vote against JOHN ROBERTS for the same. When will Fox News and the Republicans actually be fair and tell the real truth to the people of the world.
    Same on those Senators that voted NAY today. They must be defeated next elections. And Fox News MUST BE SILENTED. They are not fit to be on the air

    March 5, 2014 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  9. Bill from GA

    So, if you are a lawyer and might consider running for public office, don't be a public defender. You might get a case that the righties don't approve.

    Since all mu

    March 5, 2014 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  10. sammy750

    Supreme Court Justice Roberts defended a killer of 8, was he given the same treatment and voice. I think not. Republicans are like HITLER, which I know is no correct. But what about Chairman ISSA today, he acted like HITLER and shut off the mike of the Democrat. But that ok by the Republicans. They always play fair and speak the truth.

    March 5, 2014 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  11. Smitty

    Harry do the USA a favor and retire. We all know Oblunder care is a mess except for you. If you cant see that than step down.

    March 5, 2014 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  12. Radgast

    If you are going to deny the nominee, I prefer both parties to voice the reasons. Doubt everyone would say this was fair or even a reasonable conclusion. Maybe its just the nature of politics, but for all the stench of partisanship its always nice to see some crossing their own president. It would be nice if the political party labels would go away all together, but then we could only bash people on their records, and there is no sport in that is there?...

    March 5, 2014 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  13. S. B. Stein

    Everyone needs to be defended, but Abu-Jamal shouldn't have any further defense. He shot a cop and should stay in jail until he is either drooling and can't speak his own name or is dead.

    March 5, 2014 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  14. Bigwilliestyles

    Racism; america's fabric.

    March 5, 2014 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  15. Neutral Observer

    This could become addicting for the dems.

    March 5, 2014 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  16. Al

    They say you should pay for your actions. Well it's time to pay up for his actions. I'm glad to see that both sides rejected this garbage.

    March 5, 2014 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  17. Hawkeye07

    How on earth does the sack of democrat in the white house propose such another sack of democrat for such an important position? Someone needs to pull the chain on the water closet on these floaters.

    March 5, 2014 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  18. Refuse2giveup

    How does any senator justify voting to approve this repulsive nominee? How can Obama justify nominating this man? This man worked to overturn a death sentence for an admitted cop-killer by claiming "unfounded and unproven" charges of racism. Thnk God enough senators came to their senses. This administration seems to go out of its' way to provoke, inflame and taunt. I have never seen anything like it in my lifetime.

    March 5, 2014 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  19. John

    Not a fan of politicians, but really you have to laud some of the picks these politicians make – tax evaders, scumbag lobbyists and lawyers, the connected (Kennedy who has not voted in 20 years). We really need strict term limits, total transparency (not Obama transparency nor Bush). A country of 300 million, we certainly have better than the trash that is in Washington.

    March 5, 2014 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  20. Obama Approval Rating = 38% and falling fast

    It is about time, after 5 years, a few Democrats start doing what is best for this country and stop towing the far left Obama line. There are already too many of these far left radicals in the Obama administration. There is already too much lawlessness and disregard of our laws without this clown jumping in the Obama clown car.

    March 5, 2014 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  21. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote OUT the repub/tea bag majority

    "Critics charged Adegbile helped turn the appeals process for Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was found guilty in 1981 of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner, into a racially-charged political cause, and, in doing so, went far beyond his duties as a lawyer."

    Where were all these critics when John Roberts was nominated to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? He also worked on the appeal of a convicted murderer: John Errol Ferguson, who murdered eight people.

    Everyone agrees that Mr. Adegbile is a top-notch lawyer – and yet some call him a "cop-killer advocate." Why wasn't no-Chief Justice John Roberts characterized as a "multiple-murderer advocate"? Why do the lives of those 8 victims not count as much as that police officer?

    Why do repub/tea bags not believe in our judicial system, which guarantees that every defendant has adequate representation and that his trial, conviction and sentence do not violate the C O N S T I T U T I O N?

    Why do repub/tea bags care more about party politics – and handing President Obama a "defeat" – than they do about our country and her laws?


    March 5, 2014 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  22. RLabrone

    I don't know enough about the guy to say if he should or should not have been approved. However, I do know that defense attorneys will try any ploy to save their client and this guy is not the first nor will he be the last to make accusations that are what we considered to be wild. So are we going to punish all defense attorneys for doing their job or just the black ones?

    March 5, 2014 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  23. loops

    Obama calls this failed nomination a "travesty." The real travesty was that a police officer was slained in cold blood. And that this lawyer volunteered to assist a murderer and advocated for him. No one can imagine the real travesty that Officer Daniel Faulk­ner's wife, Maureen, has faced–losing her husband and having to continuely remind people that her husband was murdered by a cold blooded killer.

    March 6, 2014 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  24. Thomas

    If the republicans dislike him for being honest and doing his job . He has my vote .

    March 6, 2014 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  25. hkirwin

    Obama's approval rating just hit and all time low of 38%. Take into account the 12% black block vote and the 26% Mexican and young women block vote Obama can not go any lower. He will appoint this racist radical on a recess appointment and bizarro world will continue. Everyone who voted for Obama deserves everything he is now giving you.

    March 6, 2014 07:10 am at 7:10 am |
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