Senate Rejects Debo Adegbile to Lead Civil Rights Division

Sparking disapproval from President Obama, a bipartisan vote by the Senate failed to move his pick for head of the Civil Rights Division through to confirmation.

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Senior counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Debo Adegbile testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Jan. 8, 2014, on Capitol Hill.

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Republicans of the Senate, joined by a few defecting Democrats, successfully blocked President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department on Wednesday, sparking the ire of the administration, the Associated Press reports.

The final vote tally was a narrow 47-52 against moving longtime NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund official Debo Adegbile toward confirmation. The reasoning: Adegbile's connection to the case of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal (Adegbile took part in an appeal filed on behalf of Abu-Jamal).

Obama called the move a "travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant." He slammed "Washington politics" for using the rules against a good candidate.

The Rev. Al Sharpton joined the president in denouncing the vote and calling out the Democrats on their apparent "betrayal." "The Senate's failure to confirm Debo Adegbile as the Justice Department's civil rights head is a smack in the face of all Americans. It is also a betrayal to those of us that see civil rights legal work as a credible and patriotic duty of those that practice law in this country," Sharpton said in a scathing statement, which went on:

This vote, not only denies Americans a qualified civil rights chief in Justice Department, it also says now that if you work for a civil rights legal organization and engage in cases deemed controversial that you are disqualified from high level public service. This in effect this marginalizes, if not demonizes civil rights lawyering in the country. The vote of Democrats on this is a betrayal that should not go unanswered.

Eight Democrats in total, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), joined all 44 Republicans in throwing out the vote, according to the AP. Reid had initially voted in favor of putting Adegbile forward before changing his vote at the last minute, giving himself the ability to bring up the nomination again later.

Republicans, however, are adamant that Adegbile's involvement with Abu-Jamal disqualified him from the office.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) even read a writer from the widow of the slain police officer shortly before the vote: "Today, as my husband lies 33 years in his grave, his killer has become a wealthy celebrity," she wrote, AP notes. "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.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went into detail about the officer's senseless death. "[He was] conducting a routine traffic stop when Wesley Cook—also known as Mumia Abu-Jamal—shot him in the back. He then stood over Officer Faulkner and shot him several more times in the chest," McConnell said. "As Officer Faulkner lay dying in the street, defenseless, Abu-Jamal shot him in the face, killing him. At the hospital, Abu-Jamal bragged that he had shot Officer Faulkner and expressed his hope that he would die."

Adegbile's supporters, however, pointed out that the decision to get involved with Abu-Jamal's case was made by another official, and by then his death sentence had been vacated anyway.  

The other Democrats who voted with Republicans were Sens. Bob Casey (Penn.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and John Walsh (Mont.).

Pryor, Coons and Walsh are all up for re-election, the AP notes.

Read more at the Associated Press.