Mumia appeals attorney rejected from DOJ post by U.S. Senate

Debo Adegbile
Debo Adegbile. Credit: Getty Images

Debo Adegbile, nominated to lead the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division as an assistant attorney general, will not get the job after the U.S. Senate voted against his nomination today.

Adegbile’s nomination was considered controversial because he led the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund as they worked to appeal the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murdering Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.

The U.S. Senate voted 52 to 47 against a procedural step in the nomination proceeding, which effectively blocks Adegbile’s nomination, Fox News reported.

Both Pennsylvania U.S. senators Pat Toomey (R) and Bob Casey (D) voted against Adegbile.

D.A. Seth Williams praised the senators for their leadership, Faulker’s widow Maureen for her efforts.

“This is not about a defendant’s right to representation,” Williams said. “From the very beginning this was about our opposition to the manner in which he [Adegbile] involved the [NAACP] Legal Defense Fund. … The defense of this man [Abu-Jamal] was about misleading the public.”

Williams and other members of local law enforcement, along with several elected officials, opposed President Obama’s nomination of Adegbile to the post, announced in November.

But the American Bar Association supported Adegbile. ABA President James Silkenat wrote in a statement that Adegbile’s work “is consistent with the finest traditions of this country’s legal profession and should be commended, not condemned.”

President Obama released a statement today calling the Senate vote “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

“Adegbile has been subjected to an unfair smear campaign,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF, in a statement released today. “Adegbile was attacked because the NAACP Legal Defense Fund became counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal during his tenure here.  The NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s involvement in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case reflects its institutional commitment to ensuring that the criminal justice system is administered fairly and in compliance with the U.S. Constitution for all Americans, no matter how controversial.

However, in an op-ed Williams co-wrote with Sen. Toomey in the Wall Street Journal last week, they said the LDF “actively fanned the racial firestorm” when they entered Abu-Jamal’s appeals process.

“They said repeatedly that the case was all about race,” Deputy District Attorney Ron Eisenberg said. “That he [Abu-Jamal] was not the defendant; that he was the victim of a racist system. They said they were honored to represent him.”

Adegbile led the Legal Defense fund as they worked on Abu-Jamal’s case in opposition to Abu-Jamal’s death sentence. That death sentence was voided in 2011 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and the Philadelphia D.A.’s Office decided to drop attempts to seek the death penalty.

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