Senate Unfairly Blocks Adegbile's Confirmation For Having Worked On Mumia's Defense

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Debo Adegbile

[Op-Ed]

I am deeply disappointed that the United States Senate failed to confirm Debo Adegbile for the position of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice. The Senate voted against cloture (closing debate) on the nomination. We call upon Senator Reid to bring the nomination of Adegbile before the U.S. Senate again.

As one of the preeminent civil rights lawyers of his generation, Adegbile has committed most of his life's work to advancing civil rights in America. There is no question that Adegbile is immensely qualified for the position. He is a man of integrity, accomplishment, and passionate commitment to civil rights.

Unfortunately, Adegbile has been subjected to an unfair smear campaign. 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.

Many public servants, including Chief Justice John Roberts, have donated pro bono time to the representation of death-sentenced prisoners in controversial cases. Ultimately, a federal appeals court agreed with us and ruled twice that the instructions given to Mumia Abu-Jamal's sentencing jury were incorrect and violated the Constitution. Thus, as explained by the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board, Adegbile  "worked for an organization that believes in leaving no stone unturned in seeking justice for all."

Much of the attention on the nomination has centered on the attacks, rather than the full story of Adegbile’s tremendous contribution to the civil rights movement.

After working in private practice, Adegbile joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the nation's leading civil rights law firm and a completely separate entity from the NAACP.  At LDF,  Adegbile quickly rose to become the Director of Litigation and later served as Acting President and Director-Counsel and Special Counsel.

During his 12-year tenure at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Adegbile defended the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court twice (Shelby County v. Holder and Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder). In addition to being one of the nation's leading voting rights attorneys, Adegbile also worked on education, employment and criminal justice issues.

During his career, Adegbile has represented voters, students, firefighters, police officers,  Hurricane Katrina evacuees, families struggling with foreclosure, and victims of domestic violence.

His nomination received widespread and bipartisan support by state attorneys general, prosecutors (including a prosecutor in Zacarias Moussai's trial), the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Supreme Court lawyers, and a bipartisan group of members of the bar. Eighty-four civil rights, disability, women's, LGBT, labor and other organizations jointly submitted a powerful letter in support of his nomination.

Adegible went from facing homelessness as a child to arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court. Half Irish and half Nigerian, Adegbile was born in New York City and raised by a single mother.

The President of the American Bar Association, James Silkenat, described Adegbile's work as "consistent with the finest tradition of this country's legal profession."

Three NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers have held this critically important position.

 

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund 

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