WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday narrowly approved the nomination of a longtime legal advocate for liberal causes to run the civil rights division at the Justice Department.
The vote in the Democratic-controlled committee for Debo Adegbile (DAY-bow uh-DAYG-buh-lay) was 10-8, along party lines.
Praised by civil rights groups as one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field, Adegbile was opposed by conservative Republicans and half a dozen law enforcement groups over his legal work at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
A onetime Black Panther and former death row inmate, Abu-Jamal was found guilty in the 1982 killing of a white Philadelphia police officer. The efforts of Adegbile and others at the legal defense fund resulted in Abu-Jamal being sentenced to life imprisonment instead of death for the killing of officer Daniel Faulkner.
At his Senate nomination hearing a month ago, Adegbile said the nation's commitment to constitutional principles requires following the rules even in the hardest criminal cases. Faulty jury instructions resulted in overturning the death penalty against Abu-Jamal.
Adegbile "doesn't deserve the disparagement" he has received, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said. Leahy said the nominee was being criticized for a single case "out of hundreds and hundreds he's been involved in."
"Both Democrats and Republicans have observed the problem of politicizing the Justice Department," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said. "The nominee ... will only make that worse. For the past 12 years he has been a fighter for a political agenda."
In a letter last month to President Barack Obama, the 330,000-member National Fraternal Order of Police said Adegbile's nomination "is a thumb in the eye of our nation's law enforcement officers."
Adegbile's efforts "led to the overturning of the just sentence Abu-Jamal received for murdering a valuable member of the law enforcement community," the National Association of Police Organizations said. Adegbile's decision to "champion the cause of an extremist cop-killer ... sends a message of contempt to police officers," Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams said.
The president made a "disgraceful decision" in nominating Adegbile, Faulkner's widow, Maureen, wrote Leahy. "Over the decades, Danny's fellow police officers waited for justice. They got instead endless legal tricks and posturing from Mr. Adegbile."