by Charles Mombo
Yesterday was a sad day for America’s justice system. Debo Adegbile, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division was rejected by the U.S. Senate in a 47-52 vote. Members of President Obama’s own party who opposed his nominee were: Christopher A. Coons (Del.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and John Walsh (Mont.).
Adegbile’s rejection was not only a miscarriage, but an aborted justice. The Senate's move was a brazen disregard of the rule of law and an attack on the ‘right to counsel.' It is tragic and worrisome that lawmakers entrusted to uphold the constitution are at the forefront of its destruction.
Adegbile, a highly regarded civil rights litigator had the support of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights including 75 other legal organizations. They jointly wrote the Senate pledging support on his behalf.
Why did the Senate reject Debo Adegbile?
Adegbile, 47-year-old, drew opposition from white bipartisan senators and national law enforcement organizations for adhering to the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." The right to counsel in federal proceedings was well-established by statute early in America’s history, and was reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1938 in Johnson v. Zerbst.
Adegbile is being punished for working at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)’s Legal Defense Fund, during the time the organization was trying to overturn the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.
Adegbile’s defenders are saying the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund began its work on Abu-Jamal’s behalf before his tenure. They also acknowledge that he contributed to filing the 2009 legal brief that argued that Abu-Jamal faced a discriminatory jury.
NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund filed a brief on behalf of Abu-Jamal’s U.S. Supreme Court appeal criticizing the 3rd Circuit panel’s “departure from controlling precedent”—faulting that ruling for improperly increasing the evidentiary burden on defendants raising jury discrimination claims.
A federal District Court judge agreed with NAACP and dismissed Abu-Jamal’s death sentence after finding flaws in forms used by the jury that condemned him to death.
Who is Debo Adegbile?
A highly respected civil rights lawyer, Debo was born Adebowale Patrick Akande Adegbile in New York City to a Nigerian father and an Irish mother. He was raised by his mother. As a child actor on the children's TV show Sesame Street, during the 1970s, he played the character Debo and performed in episodes for nine years.
According to the CivilRights.org;
“Mr. Adegbile is one of the preeminent civil rights litigators of his generation. He is also a consensus builder. Mr. Adegbile has earned respect and admiration from a bipartisan set of colleagues, lawyers, and leaders, including former Solicitors General Paul Clement and Drew Days, because of his principled and measured approach to issues.
Throughout his career, Mr. Adegbile has distinguished himself as a highly effective and respected advocate who achieved successes both inside and outside the courtroom. The son of immigrants who worked his way from poverty to the top of the legal profession, Mr. Adegbile is a steadfast voice for equality and opportunity for all Americans.”