LIVE VIDEO: Live Newscast    Watch

Senate blocks Obama nominee Debo Adegbile over Mumia Abu-Jamal case

3:28 PM, Mar 5, 2014   |    comments
Debo Adegbile (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +



WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- The U.S. Senate narrowly defeated President Obama's nominee to oversee the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division due to Republican and law enforcement objections to the role he played in the defense of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

In a statement, Obama called the defeat a "travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant."

Only 47 senators, all Democrats, voted to advance Debo Adegbile's nomination while 52 senators voted to block him, including 7 Democrats. Vice President Biden presided over the vote in the event he could break a tie, which was unnecessary after Democrats failed to muster enough support. Obama said "those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant."

The Democrats voting to block the nomination were Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, John Walsh of Montana, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Chris Coons of Delaware. Coons, Pryor, and Walsh all face re-election this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also voted against the nomination in the end, but only for procedural reasons that will allow him to bring it up again if he so chooses.

Adegbile's defeat occurred even after Senate Democrats last year unilaterally changed the Senate rules on judicial and executive nominations to lower the threshold from 60 to a simple majority of votes to end a filibuster. He is the first Obama nominee to lose on the floor over Democratic opposition.

Democrats, lawyers groups and civil rights activists hailed Adegbile as one of the nation's leading civil rights attorneys with impeccable credentials honed over two decades in the profession. He has worked as an aide in the U.S. Senate as well as the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and has argued two civil rights cases on voting rights before the Supreme Court.

"There is no question about his competence," said Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., prior to the vote.

However, his nomination prompted fierce backlash from the law enforcement community because he once worked on the defense team of Abu-Jamal, who was convicted for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police office Daniel Faulkner. Adegbile was part of the NAACP legal team that is partly credited with commuting Abu-Jamal's death sentence.

In a statement, Coons said he did not doubt Adegbile's qualifications but that he could not overcome concerns about his ability to do the job. "I was troubled by the idea of voting for an Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights who would face such visceral opposition from law enforcement on his first day on the job," he said, "The vote I cast today was one of the most difficult I have taken since joining the Senate, but I believe it to be right for the people I represent."

Speaking on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., noted that Adegbile's work on the case began 25 years after the murder occurred and credited Adegbile's work on protecting constitutional rights. "He's a fine man, what a story of the American Dream. He's devoted his life to public service," Reid said.

Faulkner's widow, Maureen, lobbied senators to oppose the nomination. "Old wounds have once again been ripped open and additional insult is brought upon our law enforcement community in this country by President Obama's nomination of Debo Adegbile," she wrote in an emotional letter, "Certainly there are others with similar qualifications that would be better choices. I would argue that Mr. Adegbile's decision to defend a cop killer should preclude him from holding any public position."

The Philadelphia Inquirer, which exhaustively covered Abu-Jamal''s conviction and appeals, strongly disagreed 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."

A New York City native, Adegbile, 47, spent nine years in the 1970's as a child actor on Sesame Street.

You may also like...

Beach Treasure: Lost wedding ring found 8 months later

Nudist Lawsuit: Blind woman sues for having service dog refused

Reptile Invasion: Exotic "tegu lizards" taking over Tampa Bay

Dream Date: High schooler taking NFL cheerleader to the prom

Underwater Secret: Hidden caves beneath Weeki Wachee

Send in the Clowns: Clown shortage threatens the nation

Sasquatch on Tour: "Dead Bigfoot" on display in Texas

Eat Up: Yoga mat chemical found in hundreds of store foods

#ShortYellows: Florida quietly shortened yellow lights

Kittens shot: Officer shoots kittens in front of children

Popular photo galleries:

Faces of Meth: Devastating before and after photos of meth abusers

Trayvon Martin Shooting: Trayvon Martin crime scene photos and George Zimmerman injury photos 

Hooters Winners: Winners of the 2013 Hooters swimsuit pageant

Rejected: Funny Florida license plates rejected by the DMV ***warning graphic***

Deadly sinkhole: Home collapses, man dies in giant sinkhole

Popular Databases:

Florida Sex Offenders: Look up sex offenders in any Florida neighborhood here

Restaurant Inspections: Look up inspection reports for any Florida restaurant here

Most Watched Videos