Vulnerable Dem Senators on the spot tomorrow

The Senate is to vote tomorrow on cloture on the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which poses a difficult test for red state Senate Democrats facing the voters this fall. Over the weekend, Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey announced that he would not support the nomination, because of Adegbile’s outspoken support for cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal, who is reviled by police across the country, including the large labor union, The Fraternal Order of Police.

Terry Eastland, writing in the Weekly Standard describes the dimensions of the problem facing vulnerable Senate Dems:

...the matter was the subject of an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week by Pat Toomey, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, which he wrote with Seth Williams, the district attorney of Philadelphia.

There is here a Philadelphia story, of sorts, involving Philadelphia native Mumia Abu-Jamal, whom the Fraternal Order of Police has described as “our country’s most notorious cop-killer.” Abu-Jamal was a supporter of the racist-anarchist group called “MOVE” that was founded in Philadelphia in 1972 and encouraged violence against police. In 1981 Abu-Jamal shot and killed a 25-year-old city police officer, Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal became a MOVE celebrity, and he tried to turn his trial into political theater and to incite racial violence. He was convicted and given the death penalty in 1982, whereupon three decades of appeals ensued, with the death sentence voided in 2008 because of faulty jury instructions. Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence.

Appeals require appellate lawyers, of course, and Toomey and Williams point out that Abu-Jamal’s lawyers “echoed their client’s antics in legal maneuvers that made a mockery of the justice system. These appeals primarily functioned as a stage for Abu-Jamal’s hateful ideologies, painting him as the unjustly accused victim of a racist conspiracy.” In 2011, the Legal Defense Fund took on Abu-Jamal as its client, having previously supported his positions in amicus filings. And “under Adegbile’s leadership and through rallies protests, and a media campaign,” observe Toomey and Williams, “the Legal Defense Fund actively fanned the racial firestorm.”

At his confirmation hearing, Toomey and Williams write, Adegbile “was questioned in detail about his own opinions of the incendiary allegations of a racist police conspiracy made by the Legal Defense Fund, [but he] avoided answering the inquiries. Instead he repeatedly deflected questions, stating that he was not the lead lawyer on the case—as if, while acting as litigation director and later president of the legal defense fund, he had failed to notice what was said by its lawyers about the group’s most famous client.”

The list of law enforcement groups opposing the nomination includes not only the Fraternal Order of Police but also the National Sheriffs Association, the National Association of Police Organizations, and the National Narcotic Officers Associations, among others.

Toomey and Williams point out that their concern is not that Adegbile acted as an attorney for a criminal defendant. “The right to counsel is a fundamental part of America’s criminal justice system, and no lawyer should be faulted for the crimes of his clients.” But what Adegbile did was “to seize on a case and turn it into a political platform from which to launch an extreme attack on the justice system.”

Should a lawyer involved in such a project head up the most important civil rights office in the government, one that enforces, not incidentally, criminal civil rights laws? 

Will Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagen of North Carolina, John Walsh of Montana, and Mark Begich of Alaska relish defending a vote to confirm Adegbile? The television ads attacking such a vote prioactically write themselves. How about Al Franken of Minnesota, whose re-election is far from secure? Then there are Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, who are bnot up for re-election, but might be unwilling to confirm.

All in all, there is a reasonable chance the nominee could be rejected.

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