Senate Rejects Iconic Civil Rights Lawyer

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The United States Senate failed on Wednesday to confirm Debo Adegbile as the assistant attorney general for civil rights. Adegbile’s nomination will not proceed to the Senate floor for a vote, because seven Democrats joined all of the Senate Republicans in voting 47-52 not to break the Republicans’ filibuster. This is the first judicial nomination that has failed to break a filibuster since Senate changed the rules so that only 51 votes are needed to do so, rather than the previous 60.

Adegbile is formerly the acting head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and one of the top civil rights attorneys in the country. He also defended the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court TWICE, and even won the first time. But, instead of recognizing him for what he is, the platonic ideal of a leader for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the Senate chose to believe a virulent right-wing campaign which smeared Adegbile as a cop-killer’s lawyer because of his advocacy for criminal defendants, most famously Mumia Abu-Jamal. President Obama’s statement on this issue is palpably disappointed and uncharacteristically blunt:

The Senate’s failure to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant. Mr. Adegbile’s qualifications are impeccable. He represents the best of the legal profession, with wide-ranging experience, and the deep respect of those with whom he has worked. His unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law – including voting rights – could not be more important right now. And Mr. Adegbile’s personal story – rising from adversity to become someone who President Bush’s Solicitor General referred to as one of the nation’s most capable litigators – is a story that proves what America has been and can be for people who work hard and play by the rules. As a lawyer, Mr. Adegbile has played by the rules. 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.

It is possible that another vote on Adegbile’s nomination could occur. Following the roll call, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nev.), changed his vote from yay to nay, a move that enables him to bring Adegbile’s nomination to another vote.

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