Share This Page

Corbett, Ridge lobby against lawyer nominated for Justice Department post

| Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, 11:18 p.m.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Special counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Debo Adegbile, speaks with the media in 2013 outside the Supreme Court in Washington after presenting arguments in the Shelby County, Ala., v. Holder voting rights case.
Getty Images
Senior counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Debo Adegbile testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month on Capitol Hill in Washington. Adegbile has been nominated by President Obama to become the next Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.
AP file
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s said President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department “is an insult to the family and memory of Officer Daniel Faulkner

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge on Thursday urged the U.S. Senate to reject President Obama's nominee for a key Justice Department position because the lawyer helped overturn the death penalty for a notorious convicted cop killer.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on a straight party-line vote approved Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division despite Adegbile's representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal as a member of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund. The vote was 10-8. The nomination of Adegbile goes to the full Senate.

Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, was convicted in 1982 of murdering Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Adegbile was a lead attorney with the defense fund who joined the case later and helped get the death penalty tossed in 2011.

Abu-Jamal, 58, is serving a life sentence at State Correctional Institution Mahoney in Schuylkill County, where he works as a janitor cleaning showers, sweeping floors and emptying trash, prison officials say. He's one of 351 lifers there, among 2,500 adult male prisoners.

“Mr. Adegbile pushed the boundaries of appropriate advocacy in supporting the cause of a convicted murderer,” Corbett said. “This nomination is an insult to the family and memory of Officer Daniel Faulkner.”

Ridge, who signed Abu-Jamal's death warrant in 1995, said Faulkner, 25, “made the ultimate sacrifice protecting the city he loved.” Ridge said Abu-Jamal had a well-funded legal team when Adegbile “chose to get involved.”

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh County, expressed “grave concerns” about Adegbile in a letter to colleagues. Toomey said lawyers supervised by Adegbile “promoted the myth that Abu-Jamal was a heroic, political prisoner who was framed because of his race.”

Committee chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said it was not Adegbile's decision to have the civil rights organization defend Abu-Jamal, and that everyone is entitled to legal representation.

Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics, said a lawyer's job is to represent his client to the fullest extent and the lawyer shouldn't be blamed for the client's behavior, no matter how egregious. “Everyone is entitled to counsel. (Adegbile) didn't commit the crime,” Coleman said.

But, said Toomey: “This was not a case of every defendant deserving a lawyer. Abu-Jamal already had multiple, high-priced lawyers volunteering their time and filing dozens of petitions and appeals over two and a half decades.” The NAACP joined the case 27 years after Faulkner's death, Toomey said.

Efforts to establish Abu-Jamal's innocence became a cause célèbre among liberals and for human rights organizations around the world. To this day the case remains racially divisive in Philadelphia, where it's common to see people “wearing Danny Faulkner T-shirts,” said J. Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University in Chester County. Faulkner was white.

From a national perspective, Republicans know they might not be able to block Obama's nominees in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but the goal may be to make them appear as “radical” as possible to continue to make the case that Obama is an extremist, Leckrone said.

“The other way to look at it is, Republicans believe the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department under Eric Holder has become increasingly politicized, particularly in voter ID cases,” Leckrone said.

Other arguments surfaced. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said Adegbile is so close to the NAACP he'd have to recuse himself in many cases. He questioned Adegbile's qualifications.

People for the American Way, a liberal group, told senators that Obama nominated “one of this generation's pre-eminent civil rights litigators.”

Sen. Bob Casey, a Scranton Democrat, planned to meet with Adegbile and with the Fraternal Order of Police, which opposes Adegbile, before deciding whether to support the nomination, an aide said.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.